Digging to the surface, they found that the storm had subsided, and rigging a temporary sled from the boughs of the tree, they dragged home this “meat in due season.”
All through the hours of the following night the wolves, attracted by the scent of blood, howled and scratched frantically around the hut, calling for their share in that “chain of destruction,” by which the laws of the universe have ordained that all creatures shall subsist. The infant, of course, joined lustily in the chorus until the boys almost wished themselves back in their shroud of snow.
So, with alternate feasting and fasting we passed the long weeks of that Arctic winter until the frogs in the neighboring swamp crying: “Knee deep, knee deep,” and “better go round, better go round,” proclaimed the season of freshets when the vast plain below us was traversible only in boats. Then the birds returned from the far South, but brought no seed-time or harvest, for that was the ever to be remembered “Year without a summer,” and but for the wild ducks and geese shot on the lake, and the wary and uncertain fish caught with the hook, all human lives in that region would have returned to the invisible from whence they came.
It seemed as if chaos and dark night had come back to those wild woods. The migratory fever seized upon us all, and my parents determined to seek some unknown far away, to sail to the beautiful land of somewhere, for they felt sure that—
Somewhere the sun is shining,
Elsewhere the song-birds dwell;
And they hushed their sad repining
In the faith that somewhere all is well.
Somewhere the load is lifted
Close by an open gate;
Out there the clouds are rifted,
Somewhere the angels wait.
My first voyage.
My father and brothers constructed a “prairie schooner” from our scanty belongings, and one forlorn morning in early autumn, with the skeleton horse and cow harnessed tandem for motive power, we all set sail for far-off Massachusetts.
We slept beneath our canopy of canvas and blankets; those of our number able to do so worked occasionally for any who would hire, but employers were few, as this was one of the crazy seasons in the history of our Republic when the people voted for semi-free trade, and the mill wheels were nearly all silent for the benefit of the mills of foreign nations. They shot squirrels and partridges when ammunition could be obtained, forded rivers, narrowly escaping drowning in the swift currents, and suffered from chills and fever.
One dark night some gypsies stole our antediluvian horse and cow. The barking of the faithful dog awakened father and brothers who rushed to the rescue, leaving mother half dead with fear; but at length the marauders were overtaken, shots were exchanged, heads were broken, and after a fierce struggle and long wandering, lost in the woods, our fiery steeds were once more chained to our chariot wheels.