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Chapter 7

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.

'I hate to be kissed,' I said, pulling away from her, at which Uncle
Eb laughed heartily.

The day came when I would have given half my life for the words
I held so cheaply then.

'You'd better be good t' me,' she answered, 'for when mother dies
I'm goin' t' take care o' you. Uncle Eb and Gran'ma Bisnette an' you
an' everybody I love is goin' t' come an' live with me in a big, big
house. An' I'm goin' t' put you t' bed nights an' hear ye say yer
prayers an everything.'

'Who'll do the spankin?' Uncle Eb asked.

'My husban',' she answered, with a sigh at the thought of all the
trouble that lay before her.

'An' I'll make him rub your back, too, Uncle Eb,' she added.
'Wall, I rather guess he'll object to that,' said he.

'Then you can give 'ins five cents, an' I guess he'll be glad t' do it,'
she answered promptly.

'Poor man! He won't know whether he's runnin' a poorhouse er a
hospital, will he?' said Uncle Eb. 'Look here, children,' he added,
taking out his old leather wallet, as he held the reins between his
knees. 'Here's tew shillin' apiece for ye, an' I want ye t' spend it jest
eggsackly as ye please.' The last words were spoken slowly and
with emphasis.

We took the two silver pieces that he handed to us and looked
them all over and compared them.

'I know what I'll do,' said she, suddenly. 'I'm goin' t' buy my mother
a new dress, or mebbe a beautiful ring,' she added thoughtfully.

For my own part I did not know what I should buy. I wanted a real
gun most of all and my inclination oscillated between that and a
red rocking horse. My mind was very busy while I sat in silence.
Presently I rose and went to Uncle Eb and whispered in his ear.

'Do you think I could get a real rifle with two shilin'?' I enquired
anxiously.

'No,' he answered in a low tone that seemed to respect my
confidence. 'Bime by, when you're older, I'll buy ye a rifle - a real
rip snorter, too, with a shiny barrel 'n a silver lock. When ye get
down t, the village ye'll see lots o' things y'd rather hev, prob'ly. If I
was you, children,' he added, in a louder tone, 'I wouldn't buy a
thing but nuts 'n' raisins.'

'Nuts 'n' raisins!' Hope exclaimed, scornfully.

'Nuts 'n' raisins,' he repeated. 'They're cheap 'n' satisfyin'. If ye eat
enough uv 'em you'll never want anything else in this world.'

I failed to see the irony in Uncle Eb's remark and the suggestion
seemed to have a good deal of merit, the more I thought it over.

''T any rate,' said Uncle Eb, 'I'd git somethin' fer my own selves.'

'Well,' said Hope, 'You tell us a lot o' things we could buy.'

'Less see!' said Uncle Eb, looking very serious. 'There's bootjacks
an' there's warmin' pans 'n' mustard plasters 'n' liver pads 'n' all
them kind o' things.'

We both shook our heads very doubtfully.

'Then,' he added, 'there are jimmyjacks 'n' silver no nuthin's.'

There were many other suggestions but none of them were
decisive.

The snow lay deep on either side of the way and there was a
glimmer on every white hillside where Jack Frost had sown his
diamonds. Here and there a fox track crossed the smooth level of
the valley and dwindled on the distant hills like a seam in a great
white robe. It grew warmer as the sun rose, and we were a jolly
company behind the merry jingle of the sleigh bells. We had had a
long spell of quiet weather and the road lay in two furrows worn as
smooth as ice at the bottom.

'Consarn it!' said Uncle Eb looking up at the sky, after we had been
on the road an hour or so. 'There's a sun dog. Wouldn't wonder if
we got a snowstorm' fore night.

I was running behind the sledge and standing on the brake hooks
going downhill. He made me get in when he saw the sun dog, and
let our horse - a rat-tailed bay known as Old Doctor - go at a merry
pace.

We were awed to silence when we came in sight of Hillsborough,
with spires looming far into the sky, as it seemed to me then, and
buildings that bullied me with their big bulk, so that I had no heart
for the spending of the two shillings Uncle Eb had given me. Such
sublimity of proportion I have never seen since; and yet it was all
very small indeed. The stores had a smell about them that was like
chloroform in its effect upon me; for, once in them, I fell into a
kind of trance and had scarce sense enough to know my own mind.
The smart clerks, who generally came and asked, 'Well, young
man, what can I do for you?' I regarded with fear and suspicion. I
clung the tighter to my coin always, and said nothing, although I
saw many a trinket whose glitter went to my soul with a mighty
fascination. We both stood staring silently at the show cases, our
tongues helpless with awe and wonder. Finally, after a whispered
conference, Hope asked for a 'silver no nothing', and provoked so
much laughter that we both fled to the sidewalk. Uncle Eb had to
do our buying for us in the end.

'Wall, what'll ye hev?' he said to me at length.

I tried to think-it was no easy thing to do after all I had seen.

'Guess I'll take a jacknife,' I whispered.

'Give this boy a knife,' he demanded. 'Wants t' be good 'n sharp.
Might hev t' skin a swift with it sometime.'

'What ye want?' he asked, then turning to Hope.

'A doll,' she whispered.

'White or black?' said he.

'White,' said she, 'with dark eyes and hair.'

'Want a reel, splendid, firs'-class doll,' he said to the clerk. 'Thet
one'll do, there, with the sky-blue dress 'n the pink apron.'

We were worn out with excitement when we left for home under
lowering skies. We children lay side by side under the robes, the
doll between us, and were soon asleep. It was growing dark when
Uncle Eb woke us, and the snow was driving in at the doorway.
The air was full of snow, I remember, and Old Doctor was wading
to his knees in a drift. We were up in the hills and the wind
whistled in our little chimney. Uncle Eb had a serious look in his
face. The snow grew deeper and Old Doctor went slower every
moment.

'Six mild from home,' Uncle Eb muttered, as he held up to rest a
moment. 'Six mild from home. 'Fraid we're in fer a night uv it.'

We got to the top of Fadden's Hill about dark, and the snow lay so
deep in the cut we all got out for fear the house would tip over.
Old Doctor floundered along a bit further until he went down in
the drift and lay between the shafts half buried. We had a shovel
that always hung beside a small hatchet in the sledgehouse - for
one might need much beside the grace of God of a winter's day in
that country - and with it Uncle Eb began to uncover the horse. We
children stood in the sledgehouse door watching him and holding
the lantern. Old Doctor was on his feet in a few minutes.

''Tain' no use tryin',' said Uncle Eb, as he began to unhitch. 'Can't
go no further t'night.'

Then he dug away the snow beside the sledgehouse, and hitched
Old Doctor to the horseshoe that was nailed to the rear end of it.
That done, he clambered up the side of the cut and took some rails
off the fence and shoved them over on the roof of the house, so
that one end rested there and the other on the high bank beside us.
Then he cut a lot of hemlock boughs with the hatchet, and
thatched the roof he had made over Old Doctor, binding them with
the reins. Bringing more rails, he leaned them to the others on the
windward side and nailed a big blanket over them, piecing it out
with hemlock thatching, so it made a fairly comfortable shelter.
We were under the wind in this deep cut on Fadden's Hill, and the
snow piled in upon us rapidly. We had a warm blanket for Old
Doctor and two big buffalo robes for our own use. We gave him a
good feed of hay and oats, and then Uncle Eb cut up a fence rail
with our hatchet and built a roaring fire in the stove. We had got a
bit chilly wading in the snow, and the fire gave us a mighty sense
of comfort.

'I thought somethin' might happen,' said Uncle Eb, as he hung his
lantern to the ridge pole and took a big paper parcel out of his
great coat pocket. 'I thought mebbe somethin' might happen, an' so
I brought along a bite o' luncheon.'

He gave us dried herring and bread and butter and cheese.

''S a little dry,' he remarked, while we were eating, 'but it's drier
where there's none.'

We had a pail of snow on top of the little stove and plenty of good
drinking water for ourselves and the Old Doctor in a few minutes.

After supper Uncle Eb went up the side of the cut and brought
back a lot of hemlock boughs and spread them under Old Doctor
for bedding.

Then we all sat around the stove on the warm robes and listened to
the wind howling above our little roof and the stories of Uncle Eb.
The hissing of the snow as it beat upon the sledgehouse grew
fainter by and by, and Uncle Eb said he guessed we were pretty
well covered up. We fell asleep soon. I remember he stopped in
the middle of a wolf story, and, seeing that our eyes were shut,
pulled us back from the fire a little and covered us with one of the
robes. It had been a mighty struggle between Sleep and Romance,
and Sleep had won. I roused myself and begged him to go on with
the story, but he only said, 'Hush, boy; it's bedtime,' and turned up
the lantern and went out of doors. I woke once or twice in the
night and saw him putting wood on the fire. He had put out the
light. The gleam of the fire shone on his face when he opened the
stove door.

'Gittin' a leetle cool here, Uncle Eb,' he was saying to himself.

We were up at daylight, and even then it was snowing and blowing
fiercely. There were two feet of snow on the sledgehouse roof, and
we were nearly buried in the bank. Uncle Eb had to do a lot of
shoveling to get out of doors and into the stable. Old Doctor was
quite out of the wind in a cave of snow and nickering for his
breakfast. There was plenty for him, but we were on short rations.
Uncle Eb put on the snow shoes, after we had eaten what there was
left, and, cautioning us to keep in, set out for Fadden's across lots.
He came back inside of an hour with a good supply of provisions
in a basket on his shoulder. The wind had gone down and the air
was milder. Big flakes of snow came fluttering slowly downward
out of a dark sky. After dinner we went up on top of the
sledgehouse and saw a big scraper coming in the valley below. Six
teams of oxen were drawing it, and we could see the flying
furrows on either side of the scraper as it ploughed in the deep
drifts. Uncle Eb put on the snow shoes again, and, with Hope on
his back and me clinging to his hand, he went down to meet them
and to tell of our plight. The front team had wallowed to their ears,
and the men were digging them out with shovels when we got to
the scraper. A score of men and boys clung to the sides of that big,
hollow wedge, and put their weight on it as the oxen pulled. We
got on with the others, I remember, and I was swept off as soon as
the scraper started by a roaring avalanche of snow that came down
upon our heads and buried me completely. I was up again and had
a fresh hold in a jiffy, and clung to my place until I was nearly
smothered by the flying snow. It was great fun for me, and they
were all shouting and hallooing as if it were a fine holiday. They
made slow progress, however, and we left them shortly on their
promise to try to reach us before night. If they failed to get
through, one of them said he would drive over to Paradise Valley,
if possible, and tell the Browers we were all right.

On our return, Uncle Eb began shoveling a tunnel in the cut.
When we got through to the open late in the afternoon we saw the
scraper party going back with their teams.

'Guess they've gi'n up fer t'day,' said he. 'Snow's powerful deep
down there below the bridge. Mebbe we can get 'round to where
the road's clear by goin' 'cross lots. I've a good mind t' try it.'

Then he went over in the field and picked a winding way down the
hill toward the river, while we children stood watching him. He
came back soon and took down a bit of the fence and harnessed
Old Doctor and hitched him to the sledgehouse. The tunnel was
just wide enough to let us through with a tight pinch here and
there. The footing was rather soft' and the horse had hard pulling.
We went in the field, struggling on afoot - we little people - while
Uncle Eb led the horse. He had to stop frequently to tunnel through
a snowdrift, and at dusk we had only got half-way to the bridge
from our cave in the cat. Of a sudden Old Doctor went up to his
neck in a wall of deep snow that seemed to cut us off completely.
He struggled a moment, falling on his side and wrenching the
shafts from the runners. Uncle Eb went to work vigorously with
his shovel and had soon cut a narrow box stall in the deep snow
around Old Doctor. Just beyond the hill dipped sharply and down
the slope we could see the stubble sticking through the shallow
snow. 'We'll hev t' stop right where we are until mornin',' he said.
'It's mos' dark now.

Our little house stood tilting forward about half-way down the hill,
its runners buried in the snow. A few hundred yards below was a
cliff where the shore fell to the river some thirty feet It had
stopped snowing, and the air had grown warmer, but the sky was
dark We put nearly all the hay in the sledgehouse under Old
Doctor and gave him the last of the oats and a warm cover of
blankets. Then Uncle Eb went away to the fence for more wood,
while we spread the supper. He was very tired, I remember, and we
all turned in for the night a short time after we had eaten. The little
stove was roaring like a furnace when we spread our blankets on
the sloping floor and lay down, our feet to the front, and drew the
warm robes over us. Uncle Eb, who had had no sleep the night
before, began to snore heavily before we children had stopped
whispering. He was still snoring, and Hope sound asleep, when I
woke in the night and heard the rain falling on our little roof and
felt the warm breath of the south wind. The water dripping from
the eaves and falling far and near upon the yielding snow had
many voices. I was half-asleep when I heard a new noise under the
sledge. Something struck the front corner of the sledgehouse - a
heavy, muffled blow - and brushed the noisy boards. Then I heard
the timbers creak and felt the runners leaping over the soft snow. I
remember it was like a dream of falling. I raised myself and stared
about me. We were slipping down the steep floor. The lantern,
burning dimly under the roof, swung and rattled. Uncle Eb was up
on his elbow staring wildly. I could feel the jar and rush of the
runners and the rain that seemed to roar as it dashed into my face.
Then, suddenly, the sledgehouse gave a great leap into the air and
the grating of the runners ceased. The lantern went hard against the
roof; there was a mighty roar in my ears; then we heard a noise
like thunder and felt the shock of a blow that set my back aching,
and cracked the roof above our heads. It was all still for a second;
then we children began to cry, and Uncle Eb staggered to his feet
and lit the lantern that had gone out and that had no globe, I
remember, as he held it down to our faces.

'Hush! Are you hurt?' he said, as he knelt before us. 'Git up now,
see if ye can stand.'

We got to our feet, neither of us much the worse for what had
happened- My knuckles were cut a bit by a splinter, and Hope had
been hit on the shins by the lantern globe as it fell.

'By the Lord Harry!' said Uncle Eb, when he saw we were not hurt.
'Wonder what hit us.'

We followed him outside while he was speaking.

'We've slid downhill,' he said. 'Went over the cliff Went kerplunk
in the deep snow, er there'd have been nuthin' left uv us. Snow's
meltin' jest as if it was July.'

Uncle Eb helped us into our heavy coats, and then with a blanket
over his arm led us into the wet snow. We came out upon clear ice
in a moment and picked our way along the lowering shore. At
length Uncle Eb clambered up, pulling us up after him, one by
one. Then he whistled to Old Doctor, who whinnied a quick reply.
He left us standing together, the blanket over our heads, and went
away in the dark whistling as he had done before. We could hear
Old Doctor answer as he came near, and presently Uncle Eb
returned leading the horse by the halter. Then he put us both on
Old Doctor's back, threw the blanket over our heads, and started
slowly for the road. We clung to each other as the horse staggered
in the soft snow, and kept our places with some aid from Uncle
Eb. We crossed the fence presently, and then for a way it was hard
going. We found fair footing after we had passed the big scraper,
and, coming to a house a mile or so down the road called them out
of bed. It was growing light and they made us comfortable around
a big stove, and gave us breakfast. The good man of the house took
us home in a big sleigh after the chores were done. We met David
Brower coming after us, and if we'd been gone a year we couldn't
have received a warmer welcome.

Irving Bacheller