It led them into woods and by stumpy fields and pine-odoured hamlets. The first day of their walk was rainy, and they went up a toteway into thick timber and built a fire and kept dry and warm until the rain ceased. That evening they fell in with emigrants on their way to the far west.
The latter were camped on the edge of a wood, near the roadway, and cooking supper as the two came along. Being far from a town, Trove and Tilly were glad to accept the hospitality of the travellers.
They had come to the great highway of travel from east to west. Every day it was cut by wagons of the mover overloaded with Lares and Penates, with old and young, enduring hardships and the loss of home and old acquaintance for hope of better fortune.
A man and wife and three boys were the party, travelling with two wagons. They were bound for Iowa and, being heavy loaded, were having a hard time. All sat on a heap of boughs in the firelight after supper.
“It’s a long, long road to Iowa, father,” said the woman.
“It’ll soon be over,” said he, with a tone of encouragement.
“I’ve been thinking all day of the lilacs and the old house,” said she.
They looked in silence at the fire a moment.
“We’re a bit homesick,” said the man, turning to Trove, “an’ no wonder. It’s been hard travelling, an’ we’ve broke down every few miles. But we’ll have better luck the rest o’ the journey.”
Evidently his cheerful courage had been all that kept them going.
“Lost all we had in the great fire of ’35,” said he, thoughtfully. “I went to bed a rich man, but when I rose in the morning I had not enough to pay a week’s board. Everything had been swept away.”
“A merchant?” Trove inquired.
“A partner in the great Star Mill on East River,” said the man. “I could have got a fortune for my share—at least a hundred thousand dollars—and I had worked hard for it.”
“And were you not able to succeed again?”
“No,” said the traveller, sadly, shaking his head. “If some time you have to lose all you possess. God grant you still have youth and a strong arm. I tried—that is all—I tried.”
The boy looked up at him, his heart touched. The man was near sixty years of age; his face had deep lines in it; his voice the dull ring of loss, and failure, and small hope. The woman covered her face and began to sob.
“There, mother,” said the man, touching her head; “we’d better forget. I’ll never speak of that again—never. We’re going to seek our fortune. Away in the great west we’ll seek our fortune.”
His effort to be cheerful was perhaps the richest colour of that odd scene there in the still woods and the firelight.
“We’re going to take a farm in the most beautiful country in the world. It’s easy to make money there.”
“If you’ve no objection I’d like to go with you,” said Thurst Tilly. “I’m a good farmer.”