Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1217
Worth Luckett was a woodsy with an itching foot. By the time he had five growing children and one left in its infant grave, he was ready to take off again. He had already been west when he was a boy with Colonel Bouquet. Jary, his wife, had never wanted to leave the settlements, but game was growing scarce in Pennsylvania; without food brought down by his gun, Worth could not see how he could feed his family. He was wary of telling Jary outright that he wanted to move on, but she knew what he wanted and was half resigned to it when she heard that the animals were clearing out of places where men lived.
Because Jary had the slow fever, the care of the younger children fell on Sayward’s shoulders. She was nearly fifteen, a strapping girl scared of neither man nor beast. It was not beyond her strength to drown a white-faced buck when Worth had neglected to bring meat home. The girls, Genny, Achsa, and baby Sulie, and the boy Wyitt knew they had to step when Sayward spoke.
Worth led his family across the Ohio River and on until they came to a wilderness of trees that reached as far as the eye could see. Near a spot covered with deer antlers, Worth laid out a place for a cabin. He was handy enough with tools to have the shell of a cabin up quickly, but the game in the woods drew him away so often that fall came before the cabin was finished. The darkness under the big trees had disheartened Jary so much that she did not even speak of the cabin, until one fall day when the leaves had fallen so that she could look up through the branches and see the sky again. Then she felt like a human being who wanted to live in a house. She sent Worth back to his job. The snow fell the day after they moved into their cabin.
A few Indians still followed the trace by the house. One came on a night when Worth was away. Sayward hid the ax under her bed to fell him if he made a move toward the children in the loft or came toward her bed. He got up at night to cook some of his own meat at the fire. Worth was disturbed when he came home and found the Indian still there, but he and the Indian roared with delight when Sayward showed them the hidden ax.
Jary had such a hankering after some bread that Worth walked six days to bring back some white flour, but she could not eat the bread after Sayward made it; the slow fever had nearly finished her. When she died, they buried her under one of the big trees outside the cabin. Worth went away for a while, leaving Sayward to take care of the others.
One day, for the first time since they had lived there, they heard another ax in the woods. The young ones investigated and found a cabin going up, a man and a boy working on it. The man was a tom thumb, Sayward thought, when he asked her father for Sayward as a wife. Sayward thought he might be the first around there to ask her to marry him but probably not the last.
Before long, a trading post was set up by the river. Wyitt could hardly wait to trade off some of his skins for a knife. Indians and whites were whooping it up while he was there. He never forgot the sight of the wolf they skinned alive and set free.
More people raised cabins nearby until the Lucketts had several neighbors within walking distance. Worth blamed them and their cutting of the trees for the swamp pestilence that brought down Achsa, who was as brown and tough as an Indian. While the fever was on her, Achsa begged for water, but that was the one thing she was not supposed to have. Late one night, Sayward awoke to see Achsa crawling into the cabin with the kettle. She had drunk her fill from the run and had brought water back in the kettle. After that Achsa got well.
As a child, Louie Scurrah had acted as a decoy for Delawares on the warpath. When he came back to a small cabin nearby, the Lucketts expected to steer clear of him. He charmed Worth first with his woodsy tales, then Genny and Achsa, but there was always unspoken enmity between him and Sayward.
Sulie never returned after the day she was separated from Wyitt as they drove in the neighbor’s cows. Worth was away at the time, and the trail was cold when he and Louie gathered some neighborhood men to beat the woods. They found Sulie’s tracks leading to a bark playhouse in a grove of trees, with a bit of her dress as a cover for a play trencher, but they could not find tracks leading out. Close by there were Indian trails, but they were also cold.
With Sulie gone, Worth went too. He thought he might follow the Indian tracks west.
The feeling between Louie and Sayward was not softened when Sayward, after finding Louie with Genny in the woods, told him it was time for him to marry Genny. He took Genny down the river and married her with good grace, but before long, his itching foot took him off more and more often.
Louie got Wyitt a rifle to help kill meat for Sayward’s cabin. The first day he had it, Wyitt wounded a buck. Standing over the animal to slit its throat, he suddenly found himself hoisted aloft. The deer tried to shake him loose, but Wyitt was able to kill it when it tired. His clothes were torn to ribbons, and he was badly cut. Sayward, realizing that she had another woodsy on her hands and thankful for the meat he brought, said nothing.
Finally Louie went off to the English lakes with Achsa. Sayward did not know until later that they left the very night the painter tried to claw his way down Genny’s chimney. Genny burned everything in the house that night to keep the painter from coming into the cabin. When Wyitt and Sayward found her, she did not recognize them. At last, under Sayward’s care, Genny came back to her senses.
At a sober wedding of old folks, Jake Tench decided it was time to get a wife for solitary Portius Wheeler, a former Bay State lawyer. When the girl Jake picked shied off, Sayward told Jake that she would marry Portius. Jake brought Portius to Sayward’s cabin where, under the influence of brandy, Portius went through the marriage ceremony. When neighbors tried to put him to bed with Sayward, however, he turned tail and ran. Jake brought him back at dawn. Although Sayward told him she would not hold him against his will, Portius stayed with her.
Together they cut down trees for a garden patch. The neighbors brought teams to snake out the logs and to plow. Portius treated Sayward with gentle deference, and she was happy when she looked forward to her firstborn.
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