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Chapter 7

1635: Winter on the Hudson

That fall trip had indeed been the last trip by boat. Within a month, the entire Hudson was frozen so solid that a man could walk from bank to bank. He was glad to have dragged his canoe and boat to safety. Arrow said the Oneida filled their canoes with stones and sank them in deeper water until spring. They might still be harmed if the water froze too deeply.

A month after the bucket was done, Arrow's water broke. She called to him at his forge in a matter-of-fact way, to tell him the news. He hurried inside on the path he'd shoveled in the snow. His first priority was to get Arrow on the bed's corn-shuck mattress on their wide parents' shelf. Secondly, he made sure that his clever little daughter, Thunder, had no way to escape from the longhouse, though she was just crawling well and starting to pull up on things. He weighted down the bearskin covering their door with a heavy rock at each corner.

The only almost-window was closed already, against the January cold. Maybe it was January; maybe not. In the wilderness, things like calendars tended to fade. They’d check for sure when next they went to New Amsterdam.

"I've already taken Thunder and myself to the outhouse." He was too distracted to realize why that would be important.

He dug out their seldom-used lump of lye-soap and scrubbed down every square inch of exposed skin from his wife's navel to her knee, front and back. Though she scolded him, he trimmed her pubic hair with her sewing scissors, and scrubbed again. The contractions were hitting her regularly, between scoldings.

With advice she'd received from every woman she knew who'd ever had a baby, and with her own experience, all went smoothly. When a contraction of the right kind would hit, she'd push. She also squeeze his hand, painfully. In no time, the top of the baby’s head was showing. In little time more, the baby's head was resting in Eliezer's scrubbed palm. With a few more violent pushes, the baby almost shot out into his father's waiting hands.

It was a new year. Eliezer had a son.

He tied the umbilical cord off and cut it, following Arrow's instructions. He laid the howling baby on the soft deerskin in the crib he'd built. When the afterbirth pushed itself out, Arrow relaxed, but not so much that she wasn't still in charge.

"Throw kindling into the firebox and drop all the cord and afterbirth on the fire. Leave nothing for some evil person to find in the future, so that they could call an evil spirit down on our son. His name is Leaf. I heard Danish women talking about the great Danish explorer by that name, aboard ship. Thus, he has a great explorer's name and, at the same time, a name that a boy among the real people might have, even if it is in English." She sagged back on the mattress, her head pillowed on a folded coat. She held the baby against her breast and crooned to him, brushing the dark strands of hair on his head. "When you're old enough, I'll tell you your name in Oneidan. The spirits will someday give you another great name." She extended the baby to Eliezer, and she fell immediately asleep.

When she wakened, they gave the boy a second name: Edgar, after an old friend, Captain Tobilsen. Thus, Eliezer's family of three became a family of four. He shrugged, as the extra weight of responsibility settled on his shoulders. Like carrying away a treasure, that was exactly the weight he'd been wanting.

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The birth marked the transition of the household from 1634 to 1635. Eliezer had continued to burn out stumps until there were none left. He could work in his forge on projects of his own. When the weather warmed, he could try his hand at a homemade blast furnace, to convert the iron ore he'd gotten in New Amsterdam into raw iron. That product would be notably impure and require a lot of work, but for the present, it could be done at whatever pace he chose. Some of his papers had shown their area to be plentifully supplied with iron ore, especially the Iroquois country. He could hunt, if they wanted fresh meat, but it wasn't the year's best hunting season.

His fish traps in the Hudson still yielded fish, though the hole he had to chop moving them in and out of the water got harder and harder to produce. The smaller fish, which would have later gone into Arrow's garden, couldn't be buried in the rock-hard ground. Arrow scaled them and chopped them fine, bones and all, and cooked them for many days, with corn and squash, to make a chowder. The big fish simply became another meal. Careful to keep her away from tiny fish bones, her parents could feed Thunder tender pieces of roasted fish, cooked with a clay coating to prevent burning. Arrow made Eliezer build a separate fire outside, so as not the foul her firebox. The clay had to be melted in a cooking pot at that season anyway.

Leaf entered his second month of life, howling for his mother to feed him and kicking vigorously inside the baby-carrier. Eliezer took Thunder out on the ice to play; she loved it. Arrow was leery about a fall with the baby on her back, until her blacksmith husband built a sled with metal-on-wood runners, in which all his family could ride at once. She could put children in the sled and push it or enjoy the experience herself. He use the sled to cross the river, hunting. He saw an elk, but he decided not to shoot it. They had plenty of meat to last the winter in the smokehouse, as it was. He settled for several fat rabbits. The family ate them with gusto, and the soft, tanned skins became children's clothes.

He felt obliged to work at his forge, because he finally had orders that he needed to fill. Using a properly pointed anvil, the pick heads were no problem at all. There was only much hammer work and a perpetually hot forge. His charcoal got too hot, and he burned off the edge of the shovel he was making, but the burnt metal wouldn't be wasted. Before starting a new shovel, he made Arrow a large kitchen knife with an oak handle and more sewing scissors: no flowers and candy for an Oneida woman.

Arrow knew about the necessary cleansing time for a woman who'd birthed a baby. With plenty of high-quality meat from fat deer, she recovered quickly. Eliezer covered the door's bearskin outside with an unhinged door of split saplings. Twice in January, he had to wedge himself out the angled top of the door, against the snow, and then wrestle the door back into place after shoveling a "porch" on which it could open, and a new path to the outhouse. That door needed a "porch," too. The new shovel worked fine.

He could choose his days at the forge by favorable weather. The hammer-heads were easy. Thew were heavy and rounded, with a heavy hickory handle that he'd been curing in the warm, dry air in the longhouse's top. Making another for himself would be no challenge. An axe-head called for more work. He had to create two blade-shaped plates and an iron block to hold the back edge apart, but he hadn't agreed to create a handle for those. An axe-head had been among the first things he'd ever worked on in any forge. The trouble was that he was running low on iron.

In late February, Arrow pronounced herself cleansed and ready for lovemaking. Ready? She didn't exaggerate. Sometimes the forge on a cold day of the new year was almost a relief for Eliezer.

He couldn't smelt the iron ore until he could get at a large amount of soft clay in the spring to make his smelter. If he wanted steel instead of wrought iron, he needed a bag of lime from New Amsterdam, and his canoe was currently going nowhere. He couldn't make more charcoal without mud, and mud wasn't moving in February. He made another broad hoe-head and handled it with maple. He did help Arrow in the garden at times, in summer. He didn't want her to be out of a digging implement, in case hers broke, because she'd give him no peace until she had one.

With the last of his charcoal and wrought iron, he made three metal bows for crossbows and three ears-pins to protrude on each side of a bow. He started to make metal triggers, but that took a lot of time. That, he had. It also took iron and charcoal. Those, he didn't have. He made a few key pins for the trigger from iron, but he whittled the actual trigger parts from cured hickory. There were plenty of indoor days to whittle out the ash stocks. The front "stirrup" didn’t need to be metal. Tough leather would do. He didn't have enough iron to make cocking levers yet, but spring would come eventually. The levers were mostly wood, anyway.

With winter at its height late in February, every day in the longhouse became like a Sunday. Arrow cooked and tended children as Eliezer worked on some project in wood. Sometimes he'd ice-fish on the Hudson or fetch some more venison from the smoke-house. It was too cold for a bear to sniff out their meat. The ice-bound river showed no signs of breaking up. Leaf and Arrow would be clothed in finely sewn and decorated deerskin and rabbit-skin when the family visited New Amsterdam again.

The parents talked about a trip to the coast, but it was so far that they and the babies would have had to camp overnight at least once. Two tough adults would have made it, but they wouldn't risk their children. Even so, Arrow kept making noises about his hanging around their home too much.

When the light was right, Eliezer continued his pencil-copy of the Book of Matthew in the Cherokee alphabet. He'd been speaking Oneida only for so many months that translation came easier and easier. Construction of another, more waterproof shed loomed in spring. It was time to put his printing press together. The paper involved required a real roof and weather-proof walls, doors, and shuttered windows. Nothing beyond the original translation could occur until he got more lumber from Manhattan in the spring.

Everything seemed to sing the same song: "Wait until spring." He carved out a half-dozen sets of hickory crossbow-trigger parts, but hickories weren't common in cold New England. He'd have to hunt up another one come spring. The hardwood made the best handles, and once cured, it was hard enough to make trigger parts for crossbows or substitute for metal in other areas. He'd read in Grantville that the wood that he really wanted was the Osage orange, but the nearest bois d'arc tree was well over a thousand miles away, beyond mountains and rivers that he'd never seen. He wished he understood maps better.

When she'd had enough of Eliezer underfoot, Arrow sent him to Manhattan, brooking no arguments. The family sled would carry his completed orders downriver and bring back more orders and pig iron. Without the load of a family, he could carry plenty of blankets and food, hit the river's slick center ice, and skim all the way to New Amsterdam, riding on the extended rear runners. He hugged each of his children nervously and kissed Arrow. He set out with the few completed iron implements making good ballast for the sled. One packet he was particularly careful with: a glass jar full of scabs.

Simon and Clara van Tanken had lost two children to smallpox. Eliezer vowed that they’d never lose another. The cowpox scabs he'd kept were getting old; he wasn't sure how much faith he had in them, but he'd still try. His continual exercise had given him plenty of stamina, and his outdoor activity had gotten him used to the cold. He camped once, although he probably could have made it on the smooth ice of the river's center in a single dawn-to-dusk push. Coming back, he was sure he'd have to camp, hauling iron as he'd be.

The river at New Amsterdam was full of traffic. The mid-winter ice was thick enough to support even a heavy wagon. He had to be sure not to run over skaters who preferred the clear center ice just as he did. Inspired, he asked after some wagoneers' names.

In the town itself, he sought out the businesses that ran wagons on the Hudson ice. He made a sale without difficulty: horseshoes with extra spikes for ice traction; to be delivered for next year, after the ice broke in the spring.

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