In the winter of 1768, the Hallowell family of Quincy, Massachusetts, purchases a plot of land in Maine territory. Their dream is to own a place of their own. Young Matt and his father make the arduous journey into the wilderness first. They plan to build a cabin and plant some corn in preparation for the rest of the family to arrive. According to their plan, Mr. Hallowell will return to Massachusetts to fetch his wife, young daughter, and his new baby in early summer. The round trip is estimated to take six or seven weeks. During that time, Matt will remain on the new homestead, to guard it and care for it, alone.
Mr. Hallowell is a little apprehensive about leaving his son with such a great responsibility, but he has faith in Matt, who has proven himself reliable. Before he leaves, he entrusts the boy with two valuable possessions—a silver watch that has belonged to the family for generations, and his good rifle, a "fine piece [with a] walnut stock as smooth and shining as his mother's silk dress."
When his father has gone, Matt takes the rifle and tries it out, just to get the feel of it. He then settles into the cabin and feels the desolation of its emptiness. Matt's father has instructed him to mark a notch on a stick for each day that passes. Matt reflects that by the time his family returns, it will be August. He will have had a birthday and will be thirteen years old.
Two days pass, and Matt discovers that it is actually "mighty pleasant" living alone. He spends his time putting the finishing touches on the cabin, chopping wood, tending the corn patch, and lugging water from the creek. Time passes quickly because there is so much to do. It is a good life, with only "a few small annoyances," one of which is the thought of Indians. Although his father has told him that there have not been any attacks in Maine since the last treaty was signed, Matt has heard some horrid tales. He has an eerie feeling from time to time that someone is watching him.
All in all, though, Matt is content with his life. He has grown used to the stillness, and he has found that in reality, the wilderness is rarely completely quiet. He is not entirely prepared, however, when one day, a visitor arrives unexpectedly.
In the dimness of an early evening, a heavyset man in a ragged army coat comes tramping out of the forest and greets Matt heartily. Surveying the cabin and the cornfield...
(The entire section contains 678 words.)
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