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Living Among Ghosts

By Wolf Hall, Contributing Writer, Reprinted with permission from the Touch-Me-Not News

It was a cold air that blew along the main thoroughfare of Elizabethtown on the morning of May 12th, 1868. Bearded old miners and fresh-faced entrepreneurs busied about the camp as they were starting a new day and starting the new season. Most of the shops were being un-boarded from the dead of winter. There was a clamor of saws and hammers as business owners hoped to be the first to sell goods or accommodations to the newcomers that would arrive daily.

Among the dingy canvas tents near the gulch, a young and bright-eyed man walked with a hurried gait toward a tent that had a hand painted sign advertising “Jerky”. The man wore dungarees, an overcoat, and a bowler. He was chilled by the morning air though he tried to appear unaffected. His hat pulled down and his collar turned up, his breath was visible from his reddish-brown beard. When he reached the jerky tent, a Native American boy stepped out to greet him with inquisitive eyes and a welcoming grin. He surprised the approaching man when he alertly asked, “How much meat for you, sir?”

The man answered, “Not much, son. Say, young man, are you the proprietor?”

“No sir”. This response did not come from the boy. Rather, it was a low, rough voice from inside the tent. The half-closed canvas flaps hid the source. Once the young man had received his jerky and paid, he bravely asked the faceless voice. “Hello mister! Do you know of any businesses hiring?”

The rough voice’s source moved a flap slightly to see his inquisitor while remaining hidden. The young man felt as though he was being scrutinized, but he couldn’t perceive anything beyond the canvas flap. This and a long wait for any response made him uneasy. Finally with a low groan, a grizzled figure emerged. To Callum’s surprise, the figure had kind blue eyes, but they were almost hidden beneath leathery wrinkles and a grey beard. His low, rough voice grumbled, “Mr. Ennis, I’m Thomas Mills. Most call me Thor. If’n yer wantin’ work round here, ya best just go take it. There ain’t a shortage of need, jus’ a shortage of those willin’. Askin’ nicely to a little boy or a worn-out miner ain’t gonna get ya much better than carryin’ tailings.”

Thor retreated into the shadows of his tent, but as he still grumbled, “Try Froelick’s, I hear that ‘ol fool is wantin’ to get back out and dig on Baldy again.”

Callum turned back to the bustling main street of Elizabethtown. There was an opportunity for employment, and he could see the boom happening. New buildings were erected just in the time it took Callum to buy jerky. Callum could hardly believe that it was the same place that he had been told of just one year ago when it was just a Captain Moore’s little store and a few gritty prospectors. Now, Callum counted himself among the growing number of new hopefuls.

He set a course to the south end of town where he had seen a sign on a facade that read “H. Froelick”. Entering, Callum passed a crowd of browsing customers to get to the counter where a wild haired man in an apron counted sacks of corn meal. Callum looked for a break in this man’s process, but there was none. The man hardly even looked up. Determined, he blurted, “Good morning, sir! Are you the only shopkeeper for this whole enterprise?”

The frenetic man didn’t look up, “twenty-three, twenty-four, hmmm... wait, I should... oh well. What’s that? Enterprise? Ha! I guess it’s all mine, and it ain’t even all I have to keep mind of!”

This was Callum’s chance. He jumped. “My name is Callum Ennis. My father ran a few stores. They were mostly for tack and livestock, but…”

“Sure. Pleasure to meet ya, boy.” The man still didn’t look up. “Now that I know yer upbringing’, what ya wanna buy? Might have feed - no beasts though.”

Callum wasn’t sure how to react. He thought his point was clear, but this frazzled man obviously wasn’t paying attention. Stepping into the man’s gaze, he stated it more clearly, “I want a job, sir.”

Finally, the man stopped. “A job, huh? I don’t think I could keep mind of – well, not a helper.”

“Wait, sir,” Callum automatically responded, “I worked for my pa, and I know about running stores. You wouldn’t ‘keep mind’ of me. I’d make things easier!”

The man was already moving on to stacking cans of peaches and mumbling, “I ain’t got time …” His voice trailed off when a ragged young man tried to fit a pick axe under his coat. Peering over his round wire rimmed glasses, the shopkeeper calmly said, “Ya gonna pay fer that?”

Callum snapped into action as he lunged back toward the door. He was quick enough to clothesline the would-be thief as he attempted to bolt. The pick clanked on the floor, and the young man stumbled out and down the hill. The shopkeeper simply asked, “When ya wanna start, boy?”

Callum exclaimed, “Tomorrow, sir!”

Settling down, the shopkeeper finally made eye contact and smiled. “Froelick, Herman Froelick, and we open at dawn.”

to be continued in the November issue

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