There was room for all of us in that ample wilderness of his imagination, and the cry of the swift woke its echoes every evening for a time. Bears and panthers prowled in the deep thickets, but the swifts took a firmer grip on us, being bolder and more terrible. Uncle Eb became a great favourite in the family, and David Brower came to know soon that he was ’a good man to work’ and could be trusted ‘to look after things’. We had not been there long when I heard Elizabeth speak of Nehemiah — her lost son — and his name was often on the lips of others. He was a boy of sixteen when he went away, and I learned no more of him until long afterwards.
A month or more after we came to Faraway, I remember we went ’cross lots in a big box wagon to the orchard on the hill and gathered apples that fell in a shower when Uncle Eb went up to shake them down. Then cane the raw days of late October, when the crows went flying southward before the wind — a noisy pirate fleet that filled the sky at times — and when we all put on our mittens and went down the winding cow-paths to the grove of butternuts in the pasture. The great roof of the wilderness had turned red and faded into yellow. Soon its rafters began to show through, and then, in a day or two, they were all bare but for some patches of evergreen. Great, golden drifts of foliage lay higher than a man’s head in the timber land about the clearing. We had our best fun then, playing ‘I spy’ in the groves.
In that fragrant deep of leaves one might lie undiscovered a long time. He could hear roaring like that of water at every move of the finder, wallowing nearer and nearer possibly, in his search. Old Fred came generally rooting his way to us in the deep drift with unerring accuracy.
And shortly winter came out of the north and, of a night, after rapping at the windows and howling in the chimney and roaring in the big woods, took possession of the earth. That was a time when hard cider flowed freely and recollection found a ready tongue among the older folk, and the young enjoyed many diversions, including measles and whooping cough.
I had a lot of fun that first winter, but none that I can remember more gratefully than our trip in the sledgehouse — a tight little house fitted and fastened to a big sledge. Uncle Eb had to go to mill at Hillsborough, some twelve miles away, and Hope and I, after much coaxing and many family counsels, got leave to go with him. The sky was cloudless, and the frosty air was all aglow in the sunlight that morning we started. There was a little sheet iron stove in one corner of the sledgehouse, walled in with zinc and anchored with wires; a layer of hay covered the floor and over that we spread our furs and blankets. The house had an open front, and Uncle Eb sat on the doorstep, as it were, to drive, while we sat behind him on the blankets.
‘I love you very much,’ said Hope, embracing me, after we were seated. Her affection embarrassed me, I remember. It seemed unmanly to be petted like a doll.