The Trees

Free The Trees by Conrad Richter

Book: The Trees by Conrad Richter Read Free Book Online
Authors: Conrad Richter
dirty shortgown over her head and laid it on the logs. Nothing could be pleasanter than to stand here without a stitch on and feel the sand come boiling up between your legs and the whole river pushing at you downstream. Bubbles rose. Some claimed they were the breath of catfish and lamper eels in the mud, but Worth said it was the old earth herself breathing from some hollow place. The limbs covered her over here like a green roof. Down in the amber water she saw a picture of her naked body shaking soft and delicate as a young tree in the spring wind.
    A porcupine nosed out of low leaves along the bank and stood peering at her with its beady black eyes.
    “Go ahead and look all you like,” she said to it.“I wouldn’t trouble to duck myself from a porkypine.”
    She tied her braids up over her head and scrubbed her body well with grease and sand, rinsing it off in the fresh current. Then for a while she stood to dry, inspecting with matter-of-fact criticalness her strong breasts and hams.
    Yes, she was a woman now, she told herself, a white woman in this country of the men of the Western waters. It was good enough being a woman. She didn’t know as she’d change it now, had she the chance.

    T HINGS were looking poorly in this Northwest Territory, Worth complained early next spring to Sayward; yes, mighty poorly. A man had to be afraid of not making his lead and powder by another year. Only a little while back it was as fine and rich a country as a man could clap eyes on. Game was plenty as pigeons in the woods. Deer shed their horns within gunshot of your cabin. The Indians didn’t trouble much, for most of them lived further north and west. And it had no white hunters nearer than the forks.
    Then the government had to go and cut that fool trace through the woods across the big bend of the Ohio.
    Worth had taken it for a kind of surveyor’s line at first, for they let the trees lay where they fell. Now, the Delawares told him, white men andwomen from the old states were beating along this line, their mud sleds, carts and once in a while a wagon pitching like crazy over the logs, stumps and rocks in the trace. You wouldn’t expect, Worth said bitterly, these same whites had whole counties of new land left back in the old states if they wanted something to break their backs on. No, they had to come out here, first the Cottles last spring and the MacWhirters in the fall. And now the country was at the Deil’s door, for a trader, his bound boy and a kind of runner had come poling up the river with a boatload of goods and plagued if they weren’t fixing to start in the store trade where Indian trace forded the river!
    “I’ll thank them none for that,” he said. “They’ll draw more squatters than carrion kin flies.”
    Wyitt sat in a dark corner listening to his father. Not a word dare he say, but the news of a trading post right here along the river bobbed up like a float in his blood. His young back, stiff with import, pointed straight up to the roof and gable where his small pelts skinned with Sayward’s cabin knife were. Oh, he had taken to the woods already like a young gadd to wind and water. His hand could make snares and deadfalls shrewd as a man. Already he smelled so heavy of skunk that the girls complained of him sleeping with them up in the loft.
    Then tonight of all times didn’t Sulie have to shoot off her mouth about a thing she had been told in secret.
    “This here trader got any knives, Pappy?” she piped, innocent as all get out.
    Worth lifted his head and threw a look around.
    “Who’s a needin’ any knife?”
    Wyitt in his dark corner would have liked to get his hands on that blabbing tyke of a sister. He’d tend to her in the loft tonight yet if his father wouldn’t hear.
    “I didn’t mean nothin’,” she whined.
    “Which of them’s lost your cabin knife?” Worth demanded of Sayward.
    “It’s right up ’ar on the shelf,” she said, placid as could

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