The Endless Forest

Page 1

Prologue

A Word with Curiosity

LATE WINTER 1823

Well now, look who’s finally come round to call. Just yesterday I was wondering to Hannah if maybe you lost your way. But here you are, jumped right out my mind to stand in front of me.

It’s been a long time. Early summer in the year ’15, when Hannah and Jennet and everybody come back from New Orleans, you was here then as I recall. And wan’t that a fine day? The Lord our God be praised. We have had a run of good luck that started right there, yes we have.

Did you go away again before Hawkeye come home? Ahuh, I thought me so. Now that’s a shame. Was he a sight, walking up the road on a fine October afternoon? Like he was just coming in from checking his trap lines. Oh, and the stories. The things he saw in the West, my. Oh, yes, he was the same Hawkeye as ever was. Cleareyed, like a boy of twenty in his mind at least. He died just after the new year, went to sleep and never woke up. Hawkeye never did like a fuss.

Scoot a little closer, I can hear your teeth chattering. The spring has got a chill of its own, don’t it? But we got us a good fire. Ain’t nothing like apple wood with a couple seasons on it. Sweet-smelling, but it got a backbone.

I bet you surprised to see me. You was thinking I’d be down to the graveyard next to my Galileo, the good Lord rest his soul. Most are, at my age. You know how old I am? Now’s a purely dumb question. Of course you do. I will confess, I am proud of myself for getting this far. Come November I will be ninety full years on this earth, and I got ever tooth God gave me, haven’t lost a one. I am up at first light, and I mostly tend my own garden. I can still catch a baby when needs must. Caught my fifth great-grandchild last summer, a sturdy little boy called Almanzo after his granddaddy. How many women can say as much? When I am feeling poorly, don’t I got a doctor right here in the house?

These years have been good to our Hannah, my Lord yes. And high time too. Her and Ben just as sweet on each other as they ever was. Hmmm? Well a course they got children. Two healthy young people keeping house together, man and wife, children will come along.

You don’t think I’ma tell you everything right off, do you? Some things you got to go find out your own self. Ain’t that why you come?

Elizabeth and Nathaniel right there where you saw them last, just up this road a ways, the place that folks used to call the Judge’s. Now mostly you hear it called Uphill House, and this place folks call Downhill House. Because folks just can’t keep straight who belongs where.

You’ll see, Paradise has changed a lot and mostly for the good, the Lord in heaven be praised. This place is filled to busting with new faces, Quaker almost ever one. Good folks, hardworking and fair-minded for the most part, though they like to keep to themselves. They know the land too. We got barley and wheat and corn and flax, so much that come harvest time, they got to tote it all out to Johnstown and sell it there.

I expect you’ll get a shock when you see all the new houses and such Ethan decided we couldn’t do without. When Leo and me got here in ’61 there was maybe six cabins all together down by Half-Moon Lake, most just one room. Now we got an inn and a tavern and real houses like you see in Albany and Johnstown, all neat and proper. Some even got those little white fences around the garden couldn’t keep a rabbit out.

These last few years have been prosperous for just about ever-body. Good weather and bountiful harvests, the good Lord be praised.

You got a question sitting on your tongue like a stray hair. Let me guess, you are trying to think how to ask about Daniel. I should have told you right off—it’s a long time you been waiting and wondering is he alive or dead. My, if you could see your face.

Daniel ain’t dead, far from it. But I cain’t say he healed, neither. Those first few years was hard but little by little he come back to himself. I myself think it was teaching school got him through. These days seem like the pain mostly leave him be, but it is hard to know. He don’t like to talk about it. Yes, he is still a bachelor, and maybe you are thinking he’ll stay that way. What young woman wants a one-armed schoolteacher lives way out on the frontier? But I’ll tell you true, the day he finds hisself a bride—and that day is coming—there will be weeping and a-wailing you can hear all the way to Johnstown and beyond. He could have his pick right here in Paradise, but he’s waiting for something. Or somebody.

Now I said enough. You will just have to go find out for yourself about everybody else, Jennet and Luke and Lily and her Simon, the folks up at Lake in the Clouds, all those people you wanting to know about. There’s enough going on to keep you busy for a good long time.

Don’t you worry, you can come back here and set with me whenever you got questions. I ain’t going nowhere for a while yet. Galileo fuss at me now and then in my dreams, wanting to know why am I taking so long to cross over?

I say, you Galileo, be patient! Don’t be fussing at me when I still got work to do. I got some stories to tell. Stories I kept to myself, maybe too long. I was always thinking, not yet, not now, and while I was hesitating time run off on me.

Mayhap I was waiting for you to tell what I know. We’ll find out, soon enough.

Chapter I

Letters

ELIZABETH BONNER TO HER DAUGHTER LILY BALLENTYNE

4th day of August 1823

Dear Daughter,

This letter is overdue, I know. I hope you forgive me when you learn that I have held it back in order to share good news. Yesterday your sister Hannah was delivered of a healthy son. Both mother and child are in good health and spirits.

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