Stepping out the door, the wind caught William sharply, taking away his breath; with no sun visible in the sky and snow whirling thickly, he did not throw a shadow even though it was midday. He noticed Will leading the horse from the stable and mounting. He wouldn’t bring help for an hour or more. Stepping with a thwomp, William sunk inches into the soft powdery snow under his body weight, even wearing snowshoes. He started slowly; his body had to become used to the high step and wide stride that tested the muscles in his legs. Soon, though, he could jog a bit, cutting a trail through the white expanse. Snowshoes had an advantage; he didn't have to follow a road and could cut direct across his land to Joseph Clinnery’s house. The wooded slope to the bottom was steep, his only obstacle, but leaning backward, punching his heels into the snow, he rode the snow’s downhill drift with each step. The four men descended quickly.
The house, a two-room finished home with an attached lean-to used for the kitchen, was still standing, but the top of the enormous maple had grazed one corner. The branches took out a corner of the roof, splintering walls, ripping out thatch, and toppling part of the wood and clay chimney. Fortunately, the windows were still intact. Salvageable, William thought. A foot closer, the trunk would have smashed the house. There’s Providence here.
"Philip," William called out. "I want you to get the family and take them up to the house. Any injuries, you’re the one to help."
Philip nodded, proud to accept this responsibility. He trotted through drifts and pounded on the door. "Goody Clinnery," he called.
The three men circled the tree, which stretched across the Road to the Pond and more than one hundred feet into Goodman Clinnery’s yard. Foot-high snow puffs already covered the branches, but they could still see the lay of it. Clearing this tree from the road would take days, even with a large party to help. The root wad was gargantuan and dwarfed the three men. The stout trunk had been putting on rings for several hundred years. What’s more, the section of trunk with the largest and most numerous branches blocked the thoroughfare. What a waste, William thought. Bark looks like sugar maple. Much maple syrup gone.
Corporal Bond grunted. "We'll not be using Stone Street today!" William noted he used the old name for the street which had been changed ten years before. Now everyone knew it as Common Street.
"I think not," William agreed. "But we could start."
Bond shook his head. "I think a plan's in order. Way I see it, we have three goals here: the house, the road, the yard, in that order."
William hated to think what losing this route would do to outlying farms. Sleighs used the Road to the Pond because it connected with Common Street, which led to the Charles river and the center of town. "Agreed, shelter's first. With three parties, though, we could work them all."
"Until the storm lets up, we won't be able to do much." Bond stared up through snow that drifted in waves on the wind.
William, completely swayed by Bond’s argument, fell in line. "If we cut the top section, we can haul it off the roof."
Joseph Clinnery, who had been silently listening to his neighbors decide his fate, had his own priorities. "We could rebuild the chimney, then."
William turned to him. "Don't see you can fix the thatch until spring."
"But if I seal one room and we have heat . . ."
Bond pounded his palm with his fist. "Right. We could start that today."
"It's what I was hoping." Joseph turned and walked toward his house.
William nodded to Bond. "Tomorrow, the snow will end, and we can find others to start on clearing the road."
While the men were circling the house and calculating how they would reach the critical spot to begin sawing, Philip led Mary Clinnery and the children from the house. Philip carried the two-year-old piggyback and sacks of food and bedding in each hand. Mary led the six- and eight-year-old on snowshoes, carrying another sack over her shoulder. The children wore their blankets. When Philip started up the incline, the laughing children after him, Mary stood with her hands on her hips staring up at the formidably steep slope. No help for it. She set out, wondering how long before her children had used up their good cheer and their play became a forced march. It was predictable.
By the time Will joined the work party, trailed by John Coolidge and John Livermore on horseback, the three men had identified the critical place to separate the treetop and had begun to remove branches. They worked until nightfall and then made their way up the slope to the Sherborn's house. The snow had stopped, and a yellow light framed the shuttered windows, casting their glow on the drifted snow, spelling warmth and shelter for eight more souls.
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