Billy’s Dilemma

While they smoked the piece pipe, Ben explained who they were and why they were there. In no time at all, women were spreading brilliantly colored blankets on the ground to set up a trading area. Billy’s offers would go on one side, the Blackfoot counter-offers would go on the other. Indians loved a good trade even more than a good fight. The best part of a trade was that white men explained the uses of each object. If an Indian attacked a white wagon train and stole everything on the train, he was apt to throw half the stuff away because he simply had no use for it, he didn’t know what it was for. The white man told them the uses, and alternate uses in some cases. A marble could be used to play, popped into a mouth to moisten it when there is no water, it could be broken in half for a decoration, or a button. It could also be pasted onto a shield for animal eyes, or used to decorate a horse or a woman. But the typical Indian would not think of most of those things. Trade was also an education and their biggest form of entertainment.

The tribe gathered around as Billy began placing his items on the blankets. Indians normally kept their composure during a trade. He was like a gambler, trying to show no emotions during a trade. But as Billy laid out his wealth an uproar began in the crowd that simply grew with each item.

He stared out with mirrors. His father had cut a full length mirror into dozens of pieces, with the remote hope of putting the pieces together when they reached Oregon. Now he knew the weight was not worth the effort it took to haul it. He had given the entire set of mirrors to Billy. Billy followed this with a set of graduated cast iron skillets. The largest was ten inches across, followed by an 8 inch skillet and one slightly smaller. Next he laid out his buttons, fishhooks, a handful of marbles, several knives, a set of needles, and the wooden carvings. They were so enthralled by the wooden carvings that they paid little attention to the folding oven, cloth, and a black jewelry box which played music.

Last of all, Billy laid the gleaming axe with it’s brand new handle in the middle of the other items. The uproar was loud and long, as people crowded closer to see the axe.
Fierce Crow looked worried.
“He’s afraid that they don’t have enough to trade,” Ben whispered.
“Trade cheap. Blankets, a bow and arrow, and a few tomahawks.”
“You don’t trade cheap with an Indian, boy. If you do he won’t respect you. He will think you’re a fool or that you’re dishonoring him as a trader.”
“Then what can we do?”
“Trade good, then give a few things away as presents.

“I want these blankets,” Billy said, fingering one red, yellow and brown blanket that his mother would almost die for. Ben slapped his hand away and began bargaining.
The bargaining went on for hours. In the end, Ben had given away several mirrors. At the end nearly every woman in the village had one. Soon they were flashing all over the village as women admired themselves, or kids used them to see behind themselves, or to signal each other. It was a great form of amusement. Only the axe lay on Billy’s side of the blankets, blankets which Billy now owned.

“What about the axe?” Billy whispered.
“It may be too much for them.”
Fierce Crow whispered to a brave, who hurried to the chief’s tepee. He came back with a roll of reeds.
“Oh my God,” Ben whispered in awe.
“It’s just a bunch of grass,” Billy whispered.
“Oh no, boy, it’s every mountain man’s dream.”
“That thing?”
“That is a free pass, boy. A free pass to cross most of the entire plains unmolested. That is worth the lives of a dozen men, to some people. I’ve only seen it given to runners before, the messengers who run from tribe to tribe spreading messages.”

“It’s just a bunch of reeds with pictures on them.”

“Imagine traveling from St. Louis to the ocean never having to fear an Indian attack. Imagine having it hanging from your lead wagon and never having to worry about attack from a plain’s Indian… ever. That’s what that is boy. Now take it before I lay my rifle barrel over your head.”
“Yes sir,” Billy said meekly, nodding to Fierce Crow. Fierce Crow ended the trading by picking up the axe, laying it on his side of the blankets, and clapping his hands for attention.

It was time to feast and celebrate. Once again the peace pipe came out. Billy smoked himself sick. He was awed by the sight of near naked Indian women. Some breast fed their babies, other’s bent, showing a massive amount of cleavage, and many showed all their womanly charms as they danced around the fire in short skirts. None of this seemed to affect Ben, but Billy was in a state of perpetual hardness.

As the afternoon waned, they began loading the treasure on Billy’s new string of Indian ponies. They rode out at the lead of three full ladened pack horses. The Indians waved and yelled behind them, still joyous after a good trade.

“Nice people,” Billy smiled, waving in return.
“Yeah, real nice. Now it’s time to ride like hell before they decide they want their stuff back. Trading is one thing, war is something different. Once you leave their village, it’s every man for himself. Ride, boy, ride,” Ben yelled, laughing into the wind as they kicked their horses into a gallop.

Billy showed his treasures to his parents that night, next to the fire. Ben had taken a small part of the treasure as pay for his negotiations. Now he shared a few goods with his parents, who had given up their own wares for the trade. Billy was more than happy. His mother, Elisa, melted when she saw the blankets. His father, Randal Eshleman, hefted a tomahawk in his hand as if to throw it. He ran his hands over the furs, and unfolded a moccasin to see the pictures woven into the leather. Lastly he fingered the reed vest, which Ben said was a pass through Indian territory.
“You did well, son. Can I give this to the wagonmaster?”

“Sure, Pa. Just tell him to remember where it came from, when we reach the end of the trail. Ben says it’s worth real money.”
Randal smiled and nodded at his son. He noticed how tall and strong his son had become, seemingly overnight. There was a movement behind Randal and he tensed, until he smelled the familiar scent of lilac perfume. Billy looked up in surprise to see Hattie.
“Well, it’s time to hit the sack,” Randal said, stretching dramatically and pulling his wife toward the wagon. Billy rolled up his treasures in a blanket and slid them into the back of the wagon.
“Hi Billy,” Hattie said nervously. She looked absolutely beautiful in her flowered dress and matching bonnet.
“Hi, Hattie.”
“I heard you traded with the Indians. Are those your ponies?” she asked, leaving the circle of wagons to approach the white stallion.
“Yup, all mine. Do you like them?”
“Sure, they are beautiful,” she said, pausing beside the brown and white pony. She ran her hand over the nervous horse. He turned and whinnied at her anxiously, not used to being around so much moving cloth.

“Ben say’s the Indians were happy to get rid of them,” Billy said as he patted the spotted pony. “White shows up for a hundred miles out on the prairie. The Indians favor a dark color. I don’t care, I think they are beautiful,” he added looking at her. “Do you like that one?” Billy teased when he saw the way she fawned over the spotted pony.
“Sure. Would you trade him?”
“What do you have to offer?”
“I could show you a thing or two,” she said with her hands on her blouse.
“Not for that horse. It would take a heck of a lot more than that.”
She dropped her hands in disappointment. “I could…” she started to lift her skirt then stopped, seeing the annoyance in his eyes. “Well what do you want?” she demanded with her chin in the air.
“What?” she was startled.
“You heard me, I want you. All of you.”
“Billy,” she said in mock outrage. He turned to leave. “Billy!” she said, stopping him. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t,” she said coyly.
“You will?” he gasped in surprise.

“Yes but how… where?” she asked, looking around. Needless to say, there were no spare wagons available for their use. He leaned down and grabbed his favorite Indian blanket. It was red with a black x in the middle and black eagles flying around the border. To him it was priceless. He took a burning brand from the fire and led the way to a pile of rocks nearby. He had noticed it as he rode up to the wagon train. It looked like a stone house without the roof. In no time he had a fire built in the middle of it and the blanket spread out nearby. Hattie was suddenly shy, but Billy remembered what Ben had told him. “Be firm, come right to the point and don’t settle for anything less than what you want.” Well this was his night. He had wanted Hattie for months now, and he would have her tonight.

Billy sat in the middle of his blanket and ran his hand over it in wonder. It had been spread out in the middle of an Indian village just hours before. Now it was spread for a different purpose. Hattie joined him on the blanket. He held her close for a moment. They looked into the fire together, enjoying it’s cheery colors. She turned and looked at him. Billy turned and found his face just inches from her’s. He took her head in his hands and pulled her lips close. He captured her lips in his own. Her arms went around him and she kissed him back, urgently and passionately as he had always dreamed that she would kiss him. She lost her composure completely, searching his body with her hands, searching his mouth with her tongue. Her eyes were open, looking into his startling hazel eyes as they kissed.

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