Six travelers are stranded in a small ski lodge on Mt. Hood by an avalanche. The colorful innkeeper and his wife are still able to provide food and drink as they have an emergency generator that keeps the electricity going – if somewhat spottily, and gas for oven and stove. They do have to turn the heating system very low to conserve energy. So, the travelers are grateful for the huge wood-burning fireplace around which they gather every night. There is no internet connection due to the storm. No one’s phones or laptops are working nor do the inn’s TV or its computer receive signals.
To distract themselves until help make it up the mountain, the travelers agree to entertain one another with stories, true or not – they just have to be good
Next up is a big, burly man with long grey/blond hair. He arrived on a motorcycle despite the snowy conditions and nothing seems to perturb him. He has been pretty silent through much of the chaos the followed the power failure. He’s listened attentively to the first two stories but didn’t make any comment on them. The others want to get to know him better so they urge him to tell the next tale. He tries to put them off, but they won’t have it. They are convinced that such a colorful character must have some really great stories to tell. They are determined to hear at least one.
His story is as exciting as they had hoped and more romantic than they expected.
WHAT COST LOVE
THE MOTORCYCLIST’S TALE
(Retelling of the Knight’s Tale from Canterbury Tales)
Thomas Macready moved from Ohio to Oregon with one of the last large wagon trains to follow the famous Oregon Trail. He brought with him his new wife Matilda and his five-year-old nephew Henry. Henry’s mom had died giving birth to him and his father had perished fighting for the Union in the Civil War. His Uncle Tom was pretty much the only father he’d ever known. Tom was a caring dad, if a somewhat quiet man, not given to much small talk. He especially wouldn’t talk about the war. One of the reasons he followed the trail was to get away from the divisiveness that continued long after General Lee had surrendered.
The Macready family left the wagon train in Baker City, Oregon, a bustling frontier town that has boomed as tens of thousands of settlers had passed through on their way farther west. Tom stopped the claims office and made his claim, 160 acres under the 1863 Homestead Act. There would be better farming land farther west in the Willamette Valley, but Tom planned to raise sugar beets, which could thrive in the arid soil of eastern Oregon and would return a more handsome profit than more common crops. With him he had brought books about proper irrigation techniques not only for raising the beets, but a fruit and vegetable garden close to the house he planned to build.
One year after the family arrived in Baker City, the Macready ranch could be recognized by the pretty, white shingled little house sitting close to the county cow path. In good weather, Matilda rocked their new baby George while teaching Henry his alphabet. Tom with the help of men he hired when their hunt for gold went badly, had planted all but a few of the 160 acres. The family lived a fairly isolated life with only rare trips to Baker City to trade for necessities. Sadly, Matilda never conceived another child. George and Henry grew up like brothers, who learned to help their dad on the farm and the hard-working family was happy enough. Henry had a special way with the oxen who pulled their plow and the horses for their carriage. George was intrigued by the crops and how they could be improved.
At sixteen, Henry announced that he was signing on with a Texas rancher, who drove his herds to the railhead in Kansas. He saddled his horse, kissed his family goodbye, and headed south. The mail was intermittent, but occasionally a letter arrived from him. He worked hard and rose to the position of foreman. In the meantime, George grew to be a sturdy young man. He worked alongside his father as the two of them expanded the farm to twice its original size.
Seven years passed. At eighteen, George knew he would someday inherit his father’s prosperous spread and he began to look around for a bride. He looked no farther than the neighboring farm where Lorilee Benson lived amidst a bevy of sisters, daughters of William Benson, a well-to-do landowner, one of the few frontiersmen who had made his fortune finding gold.
Then tragedy struck. Although Matilda Macready was only forty years old, she began to lose energy, growing increasingly pale. The local doctor could find nothing wrong with her, but she lost her appetite, and shrank to skin and bones. At nights, she broke out in sweats and was often feverish. Tiny bruises appeared on her skin in places where she had not been injured. She started to have trouble getting her breath. Every day her symptoms became a little worse. The doctor suggested that she might need to go to a sanatorium, but Tom knew the travel from their remote home to the nearest sanitoria, which were in California, would kill her. One quiet night, Matilda passed away, a mere month after she got sick.
When he first realized how sick Matilda was, Tom wrote to Henry in Texas. As soon as Henry got the letter he headed north. Much to his uncle and cousin’s relief he arrived at the farmhouse the day of the funeral. As they left the church following the ceremony, Henry noticed the sun glinting off the golden locks of a shapely girl walking three feet in front of them. A large burly man had his arms around her shoulders, which were shaking with grief. Henry wondered who she was. When they got outside, he circled around to catch a glimpse of her face. Her face nearly knocked him off his feet. She was gorgeous. Her deeply blue eyes were fringed with long dark lashes, the lines of her face reminded him of a statue of Venus he had seen in a history book. Although her mouth was turned down with sadness, it was rosy and plump. Cupid’s arrow zipped straight into his heart. Henry froze.
George saw his cousin stop dead and turned to see what had brought him to a halt. His heart tightened when he saw that Henry’s bewitched gaze fell on Lorilee Benson. In three steps he was beside his cousin, “Yes, she’s beautiful and someday she’ll be mine,” George murmured.
Surprised, Henry looked down at him, “Pretty young to be engaged, aren’t you?”
“We’re not engaged yet. But we will be someday,” George insisted.
“Oh, I see – ‘someday’” Henry grinned.
By this time folks were in their buggies heading back to the farm for an after-the-funeral lunch. Henry and George stayed grimly silent and joined Tom for the ride.
When they arrived home, Henry went to the kitchen where some church ladies had set out glasses of lemonade. He grabbed two and rounded the house to wait by the front porch. The minute the Benson wagon pulled up, he strode over and waited while Mr. Benson helped his wife and daughters out of the wagon. Then, he crossed over to Lorilee and her mom, “That’s a thirsty ride. I got you each a drink.”
“Why, thank you, young man,” Mrs. Benson said, “I don’t believe we’re met.”
“I’m Henry,” he said.
“Oh, my goodness, Henry!” She turned to Lorilee. “Honey, I didn’t even recognize him. He’s so all grown-up now. Did you realize this was Henry?”
“Yes, Mama,” Lorilee smiled revealing two dimples cheeks. “I could never forget Henry Macready.” And then she blushed a dainty pink.
Since both young people just stood staring at one another, Mrs. Benson intervened, “Henry, it’s good to have you back in Baker City. Where have you been all these years?”
“Well, ma’am,” Henry began and started telling her about his years as a cowboy, but he was staring at Lorilee and not looking at her at all. Lorilee was hanging on his every word. Mrs. Benson caught on and went to visit with Tom. Neither Henry nor Lorilee noticed.
George stepped out of the farmhouse door and strode over, “Can I refresh your lemonade, Lorilee?”
“Thank you, George, that would be kind,” she murmured, but she never took her eyes off big handsome Henry, this fascinating stranger who had been a childhood idol. Hot anger roiled George’s belly, as he stomped back to the house, the lemonade forgotten.
The sun was going down as the last of the mourners got into their buggies and headed home. George had paced back and forth behind the barn for two hours as his fury mounted. When the Benson’s buggy passed out their wide gate, he strode into the front yard where his father and Henry were waving goodbye. As soon as his father went inside, he grabbed his cousin’s shoulder and pulled him around to face him, “I want you to stay away from my girl. Do you hear?”
Henry grinned. “Hey, kid, don’t get all riled up. I’m just catching up is all.”
“Don’t give me that,” the younger man retorted. “I saw how she looked at you – all starry-eyed and such. I don’t want you treading my turf.”
Henry frowned. “I didn’t see any claim on Lorilee. She’s not wearing a ring, and come to think of it, the whole time we were talking, she never mentioned you.”
George saw red. He swung his right arm, landing a hard punch on Henry’s jaw.
“What the hell!” The blow stunned Henry for a moment, but then he seized the collar of George’s shirt and shook him like a mad dog.
George grasped his cousin’s arm with both hands and yanked down, dragging Henry off balance. As Henry fell, he hauled George with him. Soon both young men were rolling in the dusty driveway, banging away at each other. Although the guests had left, the farmhands still lingered. Drawn to the fight, they watched as the two men struggled, punching and kicking on the ground. A half dozen of them began cheering. Tom Macready heard the commotion all the way to the kitchen where he was clearing dishes. He stomped out the front door.
He glared at his ranch hands, “Pull them apart.”
It took four burly hands to separate the cousins. Even as the farmhands held their arms, both men struggled to get back at each other. Still deeply grief-stricken, Tom now raged in anger as well. “You are a disgrace to the family name. Your mother is barely in the ground and here you’re are fighting like savages.”
Both young men started to protest. Tom held up both hands, “I don’t want to hear what it was about. I don’t care. I’m disgusted by your disrespect. I want both of you off my land. I’m sorry to call you my sons and I never will again.”
Tom was implacable, despite the farmhands telling him he was being rash. He made both Henry and George, take a few possessions and a horse and ride out the gate that night.
Henry began the long trip back to Texas. George only went as far as Baker City. He stayed the night in the town’s one hotel, which raised the clerk’s eyebrows, but George offered no explanation. The next morning, however, when he went down to breakfast, people at other tables began staring at him and murmuring to one another. He knew they had heard about his banishment. Nonetheless, he could not bring himself to leave his home city. At the general store he made inquiries and found out that the Alsop brothers, who had a big spread, ten miles east of Baker’s City, needed hands. He rode out, arriving by sunset. Old Mister Alsop readily hired him. The Alsop farm had a second enticement beyond having available work. It bordered the Benson spread, putting George where he could feel close to Lorilee.
When he had stood to inherit his father’s place, George felt he had much to offer Lorilee. Now he was a simple farmhand with a small stipend, not enough to support a wife and definitely not enough to buy a place of his own. He determined, however, to not let that hold him back. Somehow he had to make her his wife. He needed to work to provide her the good life she deserved. At first, he worked harder and longer hours than any other hand on the farm. Mister Alsop took note but didn’t say much.
What did impress them was how good George was with their herd of dairy cattle. Changes George advised in the cows’ feed and routine resulted in a much happier group of “ladies.” They interacted with one another more, grazed and ruminated happily. Their coats were glossy. Their eyes were bright, and their noses wet and shiny. Best of all, their milk tasted better than ever and the orders were coming in faster than the brothers could fill them. They put George in charge of the herd and raised his stipend.
With the increase, George felt more secure about his future. The farm provided room and board. He needed little else. So, he could save what he earned. In Canada, there was still land for homesteading, but he’d need a stake to get started. With that goal in mind, he felt ready to approach Lorilee. The Sunday after he was appointed dairy manager, he got all spiffed up and called at the Benson farm. Lorilee was excited to see him.
“I heard about the fight,” she told him. “I felt so awful. I never would have come between you boys.”
“Don’t feel bad, Lorilee, it’s not your fault we acted like a couple of idiots. I guess we got what we deserved.”
“I wish I knew how you felt about me before Henry came home. I always liked you George, but you never said anything.”
“I thought I was too young. But I can see that keeping quiet was a mistake. So, I’m not keeping quiet anymore. Lorilee, I love you. You’re the only girl I’ll ever love. I don’t expect you to tell me you love me back. I just want you to give me a chance to show you that I’m worthy of that love.”
“Oh, George,” she breathed unsure what else to say.
George shared his plans with her. She got caught up in his excitement about the future. He started visiting the Bensons every Sunday afternoon. He didn’t start back to church, however, and asked the Bensons not to tell Tom he was in the area. “I need to approach my dad in my own way in my own time,” he told them.
Meanwhile, on the long, hard, cattle drive, Henry had loads of time to ponder the days of Matilda’s funeral. He could see he’d been rash and immature to let a kid like George get to him. He supposed his thinking and his feelings were pretty muddled that day. He’d come home hoping for a happy reunion, only to find the woman he thought of as his mother had just died. It had thrown him badly, but he had tried to cover it up and it left him vulnerable – vulnerable to get into a stupid fight about a girl. Not that he hadn’t been smitten by Lorilee. He had. That was the worst of it. By his behavior he might have ruined his chances with her forever. By the time the drive was over, Henry resolved to head to Oregon and seek reconciliation first with his uncle and then with Lorilee – and he supposed with George as well.
A week later, Henry as tired as his over-worked horse, trotted onto the main street of Baker’s City. Just as he tied up his horse in front of the End of the Trail Saloon, he saw Lorilee come out of the general store. He turned away. He wanted to look good the first time she saw him. Right now, he was dirty and unshaven. Then from under the brim of his hat, he glanced her way again. She was holding the store door and giggling. Wow! She was gorgeous. Then George came through the doorway, carrying several paper-wrapped bundles. “Thank you so much, George,” Lorilee sweet voice carried across the street. “I don’t know how I would have gotten my shopping done without you.”
Henry quickly turned away, but George saw the motion and stared across the street.
In two seconds, all the time since his mother’s funeral disappeared. George’s anger surged back. He marched across the road, not caring how he looked and confronted his cousin. “You, treacherous bastard,” he shouted. “This is how you play it. Go away for a while and sneak back into town. Thought I’d be out of the way, did you? Well, I’ll give you a chance to get me out of the way for good. I challenge you to a duel. Tomorrow morning, sunrise in the town square in front of the courthouse.” He turned on his heel and left.
“Wait, George,” no,” Henry called after him. George never turned around.
Lorilee began to cry. Henry tried to comfort her, but her weeping just got louder. “You won’t meet him. Please say you won’t have a gun battle with him.”
“I have no choice. Everyone on the street heard the challenge. I can’t let them think I’m a coward, that I’m afraid to stand up to him.”
She ran sobbing back into the store.
Henry walked backed to his horse. He’d get a hotel room, a shave, a bath, and clean clothes.
It was a restless night for all three. At the edge of town, there stood an old mission, founded by Jesuit priests, fifty years before as a center of worship for the Native Americans. The Macready family had always worshipped there and although it was not Lorilee’s church, she too visited that night.
George slipped in at midnight, knelt before the altar and prayed to his patron saint, St. George. “Just as you slew the demon in the form of a dragon, Saint George,” he prayed, “Help me to defeat the demon my cousin has become.”
Lorilee arrived close to two in the morning after tossing and turning in her bed for hours, “Please, dearest St. Agnes, patron of virgins, rather than be the cause of a man’s death, let me die before a virgin’s death before morning. But if that cannot be, please let me marry the man who truly loves me.”
Henry visited the chapel at five a.m. just before heading to the courthouse square. He walked down the center aisle and stood before the altar, staring at the cloud of saints painted on the ceiling. He focused on St. Dwynwen, patron of lovers. “Grant, dear saint, that Lorilee will be my wife,” he prayed over and over until it was time to leave for the duel.
By the time the sun peeked over the eastern horizon, not only the two young men, but most of the townsfolk gathered in the town square. Prominent among them was Tom Mc Ready. He stood in the middle of the square and yelled at his son and his nephew to come to their senses, to call off this crazy confrontation. Henry and George both held their ground.
“If you won’t call it off,” Tom insisted, “Don’t let it be a duel to the death. Aim only to wound. The first one wounded is the loser.”
A cheer went up and Lorilee standing in front of the general store with her mother’s arms wrapped around watched them intently. Would they heed him? George glared at Henry, “I’ll agree if he will,” he spat out.
Henry smiled. He felt certain he was the more accurate shot. “Sure enough.” He turned and walked to the edge of the square as George moved in the other direction, while his uncle shouted out, “One, two, three, …” On the count of ten, he spun around, yanked his gun from its holster and fired and his cousin’s leg. Just as he saw his bullet smack the dust, he felt a sheering pain in his right shoulder. His gun dropped from his hand. Blood spurted from his arm. He clasped his shoulder with the heel of his left hand to staunch the flow of blood. But his heart hurt more than his arm. He saw George start to walk across the square to claim Lorilee.
At that very moment, the grounded shuddered. The commotion had disturbed the cattle fenced beside the railroad yard. A 2,000-pound bull burst through the fence and stampeded into the square, knocking George flat as it ran through the town. Still, holding his arm, Henry ran as best he could to where his cousin lay in the dirt. Lorilee broke from her mother’s arms. She got to George before Henry and cradled his bloody head in her lap.
As Henry dropped beside her, she was crooning, “Please, George, don’t die. Not now. Please don’t die.”
But it was clear that George’s wounds were mortal “Shush, Lorilee, I need to talk,” he whispered hoarsely. “Henry, the bull brought true justice. I would have claimed Lorilee as my own, and she would have married me. But it would have been all wrong. She’s told me many times how much she loved you and how it broke her heart that you had to leave.”
Henry looked at Lorilee then and saw the truth in her moist blue eyes.
George gasped and blood trickled from his mouth, but he continued, “I thought I could get her to marry me before you ever showed up again, that she’d forget you in time. But it wasn’t right. Now you have each other. That’s what was meant to be.” These last words were barely audible. And they were George’s last.