The trees put their arms together over our heads and kept the rain off’n us, but they blocked the sun, too, so the coverin’ had a sting of dark coldness in it. I pulled my sacks along beside me ‘til I thought my arms would melt clean off the bones, but I warn’t complainin’. Pa was leadin’ and Ma was havin’ her own hard time, carryin’ my baby brother and totin’ things, too. Laney was draggin’ along behind me.
I couldn’t tell what time it was no more; the woods was that deep and dark. No trails was visible to us neither; we was scratchin’ our way through a bunch of wild blackberry patches and stumblin’ over roots the size of my arm. Little midges was bitin’ and pesterin’ ‘til I thought I’d just as soon knock my head off than have to keep swattin’ those ornery critters.
“Seth, we got to stop a minute,” Ma called. “I cain’t go on with this child pullin’ and tuggin’ at my shirt this way. He needs fed.”
Ma plopped down on a ol’ stump and put my baby brother to nurse. She looked bone tired, her eyes distant and foggy-like. I knew she’d about had it with Pa’s dream. It warn’t no problem ridin’ the waves of a dream when it meant gettin’ in a wagon and bumpin’ along a Indian trail. Warn’t no trouble pilin’ everythin’ on a raft and floatin’ down the Ohio River. But this here-this wanderin’ around in the dark woods-lookin’ for the Good Lord knew what- it was mighty bad. It woudn’t take nothin’ for a body to get lost and die with these here ‘ol oaks an’ hickories watchin’ him go.
My sister, Laney, was singin’ a song to herself, strokin’ the trees as she meandered around. Ma took note of that and grabbed up a switch right away. Before I could blink, Ma was on her like a flash, whippin’ and a hollarin’ about not wandererin’ off.
Pa jumped up and run Ma down. He grabbed Laney and told her to,“Git on over there with David and don’t move no more!” He looked at Ma and she hung her head down and started whimperin’.
“I cain’t do it no more, Seth. I cain’t. I just got to have me a home an’ a hearth an’ a warm bed to sleep in. I got to…I got to…”
Her voice stopped on a cough and she set down right on the ground, the whole time baby Fernie was just clingin’ on to her like a little bitty ‘possum. She hadn’t bothered to put her arms around him; they was hangin’ limp as noodles at her sides.
Pa reached down and scratched the top of her head, like he was pettin’ her, and sighed. He looked around at the clearin’ and reckoned we’d stop for the night.
“We got to get some rest, sure enough, Katie. Go on an’ set there a while. David an’ me can get the camp put to rights.”
That night I heard some critter sneakin’ around our campfire. I knowed Ma and Pa heard it too, but they never moved and went on talkin’. Ma had a powerful fear of them mean ‘ol bobcats, and I knowed she was thinkin’ about that.
“Seth, I don’t see how in the world we coulda ever thought this wild country could make a home. I been doin’ my best to keep on goin’, but I cain’t go another step.”
Pa stared into the fire. “Yep. I’m thinkin’ it might be best to settle in here for a time. Winter’s comin’ on and it don’t mean nothin’ to me to get a good piece a land if I ain’t got no family left to live on it with me.” He threw a stick into the fire and nodded as he looked through the deep, murky woods.
“Gonna make this clearin’ our home for now, Katie. It ain’t what I thought it would be, but the Good Lord done let us get this far and I ain’t a man to press the Lord’s hand more’n this.”
Ma bent her head and a tear come rollin’ down her cheek. I saw it hangin’ there, just on the edge of her chin, shinin’ in the firelight like a jewel. She looked up at Pa and her face finally had some peace in it.
“It ain’t what we was hopin’ for, Seth, but it’s good enough.”
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