Authors: Conrad Richter
Also by CONRAD RICHTER
EARLY AMERICANA AND OTHER STORIES
THE SEA OF GRASS : A NOVEL
ALFRED A KNOPF
COPYRIGHT 1940 BY CONRAD RICHTER
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper
The author acknowledges his debt to
rich and monumental work on early Ohio; to
Historical Collections of Pennsylvania; to
classic of pioneer life in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia; to scores of early, out-of-print volumes and local histories made available by Miss
assistant curator of the Rare Book Collection at the Library of Congress, and by Miss
assistant general librarian of the Pennsylvania State Library; to Col
Pennsylvania State Archivist, and to
Ohio State Curator of History and Archivist; to the Curators of the Campus Martius Museum at Marietta and the Ross County Historical Society at Chillicothe; to the help, counsel or first source material of
W. T. B
, B. F. C
, H. W. I
, A. M
and many others;
And finally to Mrs
of the Ohio Valley, and to those neighbors of pioneer stock the author knew intimately as boy and man in the mountains of Northern and Central Pennsylvania, whose great uncles, several times removed, carried the early pioneer language along with the early Pennsylvania rifle down into Kentucky and other Southern states, where the former long lingered, and later into Ohio where it soon all but vanished; whose mode of speech and thought so nearly approximated the store of early living speech compiled by the author from books, letters and personal records of colonial days that he felt he could do no better than to tell this story in their own words
moved along in the bobbing, springy gait of a family that followed the woods as some families follow the sea. In the midday twilight of the forest, the father’s shaggy gray figure looked hump-backed, but the hump was a pack. In that pack under his rifle were a frow and augur, bar lead and powder, blacksmith’s traps and a bag of Indian meal wrapped up in a pair of yellow yarn blankets.
Sayward carried the big kettle and little kettle packed with small fixings, Genny the quilts thonged to her white shoulders and Achsa a quarter of venison with the bloody folded buckskin her father had taken since the last trader. Even the littlest ones, Wyitt and Sulie, had their burdens of axe, bullet mould and clothes. Only their mother, Jary Luckett, went light, for she was poorly with the slow fever and could lug no more than the old blue
Revolutionary greatcoat with the mended slit in the right shoulder.
It was the game that had fetched the Lucketts out of Pennsylvania. Months before the chestnut burrs had begun to sharpen, Worth Luckett looked for a woods famine. It would be like nothing since the second winter after Yorktown, he claimed. He spent so much time in the woods with nobody to talk to but Sarge, his old hound, that when he opened his mouth Jary had learned to pick up her ears and listen. For a month he had been noticing sign. The oaks, beeches and hazel patches would have slim mast for bears and pigeons this year. Deer paths lay barer than any time he could recollect of fresh droppings. And now the squirrels were leaving the country.
He claimed he had stood on a log near the old Mingo hemlock and seen them pouring like a mill race through the woods. They ran as if a pack of black Seven Mountains wolves were on their tails, or, worse, red piney squirrels tearing at the bucks to geld them. The very floor of the forest was gray and black with them. When they came to Paddy’s Run, they didn’t wait to take up and over the trees but plunged in like beaver. And the live ones fought over the drowned ones’ bodies.
If meat on the go wasn’t likely to be tainted, Worth could have caught himself a club and laid out a hundred without the waste of a dram of powder.
As it was, he just stood on his log like a duck in thunder, waiting to see if the old Harry himself was not on the tail end. And when the last came, there was nothing behind them; nothing, he allowed, but famine.
The Luckett young ones stood listening to the tale with open mouths. The homespun over their hearts plopped in and out like the flanks of those runaway squirrels. They would have given the last stitch off their backs to have seen it. They wanted to go up West anyhow, and now they couldn’t wait till tomorrow. But they daren’t show it in front of their father. No, they just stood there gaping and dying to hear what their mother would have to say.
Jary sat quiet on her homemade hickory rocker. Oh, she knew how bad Worth wanted an excuse to get away from here. Her eyes slanted down toward the clay floor. Her mouth rounded a bit as if she took all these things, good, bad and indifferent, and was running them quietly around inside her lips. Her mouth was so gentle and yet could shut like a mussel shell. She looked up and there was no telling what lay in her mind.
“You’re aimin’ to cross the Ohio?” she asked, and her eyes glinted a moment dangerously at her man.
He gave a nod. Even her father, Sayward saw, didn’t know what she’d say or do. He took out his
clay pipe and made to fill it, but his eyes never stopped watching her face. The young ones could hardly stand the waiting now.