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see any more stir to her than if she had her breath held in. I wish I had done it, Johnny, I can't get over wishing I'd done it, yet. But I was just too proud, and I turned round and went out, and shut the door.
We were going to meet down at the post-office, the whole gang of us, and I had quite a spell to walk. I was going in on Bob Stokes's team. I remember how fast I walked with my hands in my pockets, looking along up at the stars, the sun was putting them out pretty fast, and trying not to think of Nancy. But I did n't think of anything else.
There were twenty-one of us just, on that gang, in on contract for Dove and Beadle. Dove and Beadle did about the heaviest thing on woodland of anybody, about that time. Good, steady men we were, most of us, - none of your blundering Irish, that would n't know a maple from a hickory, with their ginbottles in their pockets,-but our solid, Down-East Yankee heads, owning their farms all along the river, with schooling enough to know what they were about 'lection day. You did n't catch any of us voting your new-fangled tickets when we had meant to go up on Whig, for want of knowing the difference, nor visa vussy. To say nothing of Bob Stokes, and Holt, and me, and another fellow,-I forget his name, -being members in good and reg'lar standing, and paying in our five dollars to the parson every quarter, charitable.
Yes, though I say it that should n't say it, we were as fine a looking gang as any in the county, starting off that morning in our red uniform, - Nancy took a sight of pains with my shirt, sewing it up stout, for fear it
should bother me ripping, and I with nobody to take a stitch for me all winter. The boys went off in good spirits, singing till they were out of sight of town, and waving their caps at their wives and babies standing in the window along on the way. I did n't sing. I thought the wind blew too hard,— seems to me that was the reason, I'm sure there must have been a rea- ¦ son, for I had a voice of my own in those days, and had led the choir perpetual for five years.
We weren't going in very deep; Dove and Beadle's lots lay about thirty miles from the nearest house; and a straggling, lonely sort of place that was too, five miles out of the village, with nobody but a dog and a deaf old woman in it. Sometimes, as I was telling you, we had been in a hundred miles from any human creature but ourselves.
It took us two days to get there though, with the oxen; and the teams were loaded down well, with so many axes and the pork-barrels ;- I don't know anything like pork for hefting down more than you expect it to, reasonable. It was one of your ugly gray days, growing dark at four o'clock, with snow in the air, when we hauled up in the lonely place. The trees were blazed pretty thick, I remember, especially the pines; Dove and Beadle always had that done up prompt in October. It's pretty work going in blazing while the sun is warm, and the woods like a great bonfire with the maples. I used to like it, but your mother would n't hear of it when she could help herself, it kept me away so long.
It's queer, Johnny, how we do remember things that ain't of no account; but I remember, as plainly as if it were yesterday morning, just how everything looked that night, when the teams came up, one by one, and we went to work spry to get to rights before the sun went down.
There were three shanties, they don't often have more than two or three in one place, they were empty, and the snow had drifted in; Bob
Stokes's oxen were fagged out, with their heads hanging down, and the horses were whinnying for their supper. Holt had one of his great brush-fires going, there was nobody like Holt for making fires, and the boys were hurrying round in their red shirts, shouting at the oxen, and singing a little, some of them low, under their breath, to keep their spirits up. There was snow as far as you could see, down the cart-path, and all around, and away into the woods; and there was snow in the sky now, setting in for a regular nor'easter. The trees stood up straight all around without any leaves, and under the bushes it was as black as pitch.
You see, I knew Nancy was just drawing up her little rocking-chair the one with the green cushionclose by the fire, sitting there with the children to wait for the tea to boil. And I knew I could n't help knowing, if I'd tried hard for it- how she was crying away softly in the dark, so that none of them could see her, to think of the words we'd said, and I gone in without ever making of them up. I was sorry for them then. O Johnny, I was sorry, and she was thirty miles away. I'd got to be sorry five months, thirty miles away, and could n't let her know.
The boys said I was poor company that first week, and I should n't wonder if I was. I could n't seem to get over it any way, to think I could.n't let her know.
If I could have sent her a scrap of a letter, or a message, or something, I should have felt better. But there was n't any chance of that this long time, unless we got out of pork or fodder, and had to send down,—which we
did n't expect to, for we 'd laid in more than usual.
We had two pretty rough weeks' work to begin with, for the worst storms of the season set in, and kept in, and I never saw their like, before or since. It seemed as if there 'd never be an end to them. Storm after storm, blow after blow, freeze after freeze; half a day's sunshine, and then at it again! We were well tired of it before they stopped; it made the boys homesick.
However, we kept at work pretty brisk, lumbermen are n't the fellows to be put out for a snow-storm, cutting and hauling and sawing, out in the sleet and wind. Bob Stokes froze his left foot that second week, and I was frost-bitten pretty badly myself. Cullen - he was the boss he was well out of sorts, I tell you, before the sun came out, and cross enough to bite a tenpenny nail in two.
But when the sun is out, it is n't so bad a kind of life, after all. At work all day, with a good hot dinner in the middle; then back to the shanties at dark, to as rousing a fire and tiptop swagan as anybody could ask for. Holt was cook that season, and Holt could n't be beaten on his swagan.
that 's swagan,—all stirred up in a great kettle, and boiled together; and I don't know anything - not even your mother's fritters-I'd give more for a taste of now. We just about lived on that; there's nothing you can cut and haul all day on like swagan. Besides that, we used to have doughnuts, you don't know what doughnuts are here in Massachusetts; as big as a dinner-plate, those doughnuts were, and-well, a little hard, perhaps. They used to have it about in Bangor that we used them for clock pendulums, but I don't know about that.
I used to think a great deal about Nancy nights, when we were sitting up by the fire, we had our fire right
in the middle of the hut, you know, with a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. When supper was eaten, the boys all sat up around it, and told stories, and sang, and cracked their jokes; then they had their backgammon and cards; we got sleepy early, along about nine or ten o'clock, and turned in under the roof with our blankets. The roof sloped down, you know, to the ground; so we lay with our heads in under the little eaves, and our feet to the fire,ten or twelve of us to a shanty, all round in a row. They built the huts
up like a baby's cob-house, with the logs fitted in together. I used to think a great deal about your mother, as I was saying; sometimes I would lie awake when the rest were off as sound as a top, and think about her. Maybe it was foolish, and I'm sure I would n't have told anybody of it; but I could n't get rid of the notion that something might happen to her or to me before five months were out, and I with those words unforgiven.
Then, perhaps, when I went to sleep, I would dream about her, walking back and forth, up and down, in her nightgown and little red shawl, with the great heavy baby in her arms.
So it went along till come the last of January, when one day I saw the boys all standing round in a heap, and talking.
"What's the matter?" says I.
"Pork's given out," says Bob, with a whistle. "Beadle got that last lot from Jenkins there, his son-in-law, and it 's sp'ilt. I could have told him that beforehand. Never knew Jenkins to do the fair thing by anybody yet."
"Who's going down?" said I, stopping short. I felt the blood run all over my face, like a woman's.
"Too late! Just promised Jim Jacobs," said he, speaking up quick; it was just business to him, you know.
I turned off, and I did n't say a word. I would n't have believed it, I never would have believed it, that I could have felt so cut up about such a little thing. Cullen looked round at me sharp.
"Hilloa, Hollis!" said he. "What's to pay?"
Nothing, thank you, sir," says I, and walked off, whistling.
I had a little talk with Jim alone. He said he would take good care of something I'd give him, and carry it straight. So when night came I went and borrowed Mr. Cullen's pencil, and Holt tore me off a bit of clean brown paper he found in the flour-barrel, and I went off among the trees with it alone. I built a little fire for myself out of a huckleberry-bush, and sat down there on the snow to write. I could n't do it in the shanty, with the noise and singing. The little brown paper would n't hold much; but these were the words I wrote, — I remember every one of them, it is curious now I should, and that more than twenty years
"Cullen has n't made up his mind up with a push, and there was the yet," says Bob, walking off.
Now you see there was n't a man on the ground who would n't jump at the chance to go; it broke up the winter for them, and sometimes they could run in home for half an hour, driving by; so there was n't much of a hope for me. But I went straight to Mr. Cullen.
"Why, Mr. Cullen!" says I, with a jump.
“Hurry up, man, and eat your breakfast," said he; "Jacobs is down sick with his cold."
"Oh!" said I.
"You and the pork must be back
It was just eight o'clock when I started; it took some time to get breakfast, and feed the nags, and get orders. I stood there, slapping the snow with my whip, crazy to be off, hearing the last of what Mr. Cullen had to say.
They gave me the two horses, had n't but two, oxen are tougher for going in, as a general thing, and the lightest team on the ground; it was considerably lighter than Bob Stokes's. If it had n't been for the snow, I might have put the thing through in two days, but the snow was up to the creatures' knees in the shady places all along; off from the road, in among the gullies, you could stick a four-foot measure down anywhere. So they did n't look for me back before Wednesday night. "I must have that pork Wednesday night sure," says Cullen.
"Well, sir," says I, "you shall have it Wednesday noon, Providence permitting; and you shall have it Wednesday night anyway."
"You will have a storm to do it in, I'm afraid," said he, looking at the clouds, just as I was whipping up. "You're all right on the road, I suppose?"
"All right," said I; and I'm sure I ought to have been, for the times I'd been over it.
Bess and Beauty-they were the horses, and of all the ugly nags that ever I saw Beauty was the uglieststarted off on a round trot, slewing along down the hill; they knew they were going home just as well as I did. I looked back, as we turned the corner, to see the boys standing round in their red shirts, with the snow behind them, and the fire, and the shanties. I felt a mite lonely when I could n't see them any more; the snow was so dead still, and there were thirty miles of it to cross before I could see human face again.
the snow was purple, deep in as far as you could see under the trees. Something made me think of Ben Gurnell, as I drove on, looking along down the road to keep it straight. You never heard about it? Poor Ben! Poor Ben! It was in '37, that was; he had been out hunting up blazed trees, they said, and wandered away somehow into the Gray Goth, and went over, — it was two hundred feet; they did n't find him not till spring, just a little heap of bones; his wife had them taken home and buried, and by and by they had to take her away to a hospital in Portland, she talked so horribly, and thought she saw bones round everywhere.
There is no place like the woods for bringing a storm down on you quick; the trees are so thick you don't mind the first few flakes, till, first you know, there's a whirl of 'em, and the wind is up.
I was minding less about it than usual, for I was thinking of Nannie,that's what I used to call her, Johnny, when she was a girl, but it seems a long time ago, that does. I was thinking how surprised she'd be, and pleased. I knew she would be pleased. I did n't think so poorly of her as to suppose she was n't just as sorry now as I was for what had happened. I knew well enough how she would jump and throw down her sewing with a little scream, and run and put her arms about my neck and cry, and could n't help herself.
So I didn't mind about the snow, for planning it all out, till all at once I looked up, and something slashed into my eyes and stung me,—it was sleet.
It began to be cold. You don't know what it is to be cold, you don't, Johnny, in the warm gentleman's life you 've lived. I was used to Maine forests, and I was used to January, but that was what I call cold.
The wind blew from the ocean, straight as an arrow. The sleet blew every way, into your eyes, down your neck, in like a knife into your cheeks. I could feel the snow crunching in under the runners, crisp, turned to ice in a minute. I reached out to give Bess a cut on the neck, and the sleeve of my coat was stiff as pasteboard before I bent my elbow up again. If you looked up at the sky, your eyes were shut with a snap as if somebody'd shot them. If you looked in under the trees, you could see the icicles a minute, and the purple shadIf you looked straight ahead, you could n't see a thing.
I did n't try much after that to look ahead; it was of no use, for the sleet was fine, like needles, twenty of 'em in your eye at a wink; then it was growing dark. Bess and Beauty knew the road as well as I did, so I had to trust to them. I thought I must be coming near the clearing where I'd counted on putting up overnight, in case I could n't reach the deaf old woman's.
There was a man just out of Bangor the winter before, walking just so beside his team, and he kept on walking, some folks said, after the breath was gone, and they found him frozen up
Pretty soon Bess stopped short. Beauty was pulling on,- Beauty always did pull on, but she stopped I could n't stop so easily, so I walked along like a machine, up on a line with the creaturs' ears. I did stop then, or you never would have heard this story, Johnny.
Two paces, and those two hundred feet shot down like a plummet. A great cloud of snow-flakes puffed up over the edge. There were rocks at my right hand, and rocks at my left. There was the sky overhead. I was in the Gray Goth!
I sat down, as weak as a baby. If I did n't think of Ben Gurnell then, I never thought of him. It roused me up a bit, perhaps, for I had the sense left to know that I could n't afford to sit down just yet, and I remembered a shanty that I must have passed without seeing; it was just at the opening of the place where the rocks narrowed, built, as they build their light-houses, to warn folks to one side. There was a log or something put up after Gurnell went over, but it was of no account, coming on it suddenly. There was no going any farther that night, that was clear; so I put about into the hut, and got my fire going, and Bess and Beauty and I, we slept together.
It was an outlandish name to give it, seems to me, anyway. I don't know what a Goth is, Johnny; maybe you do. There was a great figger up on the rock, about eight feet high; some. folks thought it looked like a man. I never thought so before, but that night it did kind of stare in through the door as natural as life.
When I woke up in the morning I thought I was on fire. I stirred and turned over, and I was ice. My tongue was swollen up so I could n't swallow without strangling. I crawled up to my feet, and every bone in me was stiff as a shingle.