Chapter IX. "Breaking Camp"

We were now all eager to get away, and the weather favored our wishes. A warm rain with a high south wind set in, and the ice disappeared from the river like magic. I learned that the afternoon boat which touched at Maizeville would begin its trips in the following week.

I told my wife about the furniture which still remained in the house, and the prices which John Jones put upon it. We therefore found that we could dispose of a number of bulky articles in our city apartments, and save a goodly sum in cartage and freight. Like soldiers short of ammunition, we had to make every dollar tell, and when by thought and management we could save a little it was talked over as a triumph to be proud of.

The children entered into the spirit of the thing with great zest. They were all going to be hardy pioneers. One evening I described the landing of the "Mayflower," and some of the New-England winters that followed, and they wished to come down to Indian meal at once as a steady diet. Indeed, toward the last, we did come down to rather plain fare, for in packing up one thing after another we at last reached the cooking utensils.

On the morning of the day preceding the one of our departure I began to use military figures of speech.

"Now we must get into marching order," I said, "and prepare to break camp. Soldiers, you know, when about to move, dispose of all their heavy baggage, cook several days' provisions, pack up and load on wagons what they mean to take with them, and start. It is a trying time--one that requires the exercise of good soldierly qualities, such as prompt obedience, indifference to hardship and discomfort, and especially courage in meeting whatever happens."

Thus the children's imaginations were kindled, and our prosaic breaking up was a time of grand excitement. With grim satisfaction they looked upon the dismantling of the rooms, and with sighs of relief saw carts take away such heavy articles as I had sold.

Winnie and Bobsey were inclined to take the children of neighbors into their confidence, and to have them around, but I said that this would not do at all--that when soldiers were breaking camp the great point was to do everything as secretly and rapidly as possible. Thenceforward an air of mystery pervaded all our movements.

Bobsey, however, at last overstepped the bounds of our patience and became unmanageable. The very spirit of mischief seemed to have entered his excited little brain. He untied bundles, placed things where they were in the way, and pestered the busy mother with so many questions, that I hit upon a decided measure to keep him quiet. I told him about a great commander who, in an important fight, was strapped to a mast, so that he could oversee everything. Then I tied the little fellow into a chair. At first he was much elated, and chattered like a magpie, but when he found he was not to be released after a few moments he began to howl for freedom. I then carried him, chair and all, to one of the back rooms. Soon his cries ceased, and tender-hearted Mousie stole after him. Returning she said, with her low laugh, "He'll be good now for a while; he's sound asleep."

And so passed the last day in our city rooms. Except as wife and children were there, they had never appeared very homelike to me, and now they looked bare and comfortless indeed. The children gloated over their appearance, for it meant novelty to them. "The old camp is about broken up," Merton remarked, with the air of a veteran. But my wife sighed more than once.

"What troubles you, Winifred?"

"Robert, the children were born here, and here I've watched over them in sickness and health so many days and nights."

"Well, my dear, the prospects are that in our new home you will not have to watch over them in sickness very much. Better still, you will not have to be so constantly on your guard against contagions that harm the soul as well as the body. I was told that there are rattle-snakes on Schunemunk, but greater dangers for Winnie and Merton lurk in this street--yes, in this very house;" and I exulted over the thought that we were about to bid Melissa Daggett a final good-by.

"Oh, I know. I'm glad; but then--"

"But then a woman's heart takes root in any place where she has loved and suffered. That tendency makes it all the more certain that you'll love your new home."

"Yes; we may as well face the truth, Robert. We shall suffer in the new home as surely as in the old. There may be stronger sunshine, but that means deeper shadow."