Wednesday, February 23, 2011

He muffled himself in wolfskins to his neck

January of 1787 saw him in Sweden seeking passage across the Baltic. Usually the trip to St. Petersburg was made by dog sleighs across the ice. This year the season had been so open, neither boats nor dog trains could be hired to make the trip. Ledyard was now thirty-six years old, and the sum of his efforts totalled to a zero. The first twenty-five years of his life he had wasted trying to fit his life to other men's patterns. The last five years he had wasted waiting for other men to act, men in New York, in Philadelphia, in Paris, in London, to give him a ship. He had done with waiting, with dependence on others. When boats and dog trains failed him now, he muffled himself in wolfskins to his neck, flung a knapsack on his back, and set out in midwinter to tramp overland six hundred miles north to Tornea at the head of the Baltic, six hundred miles south from Tornea, through Finland to St. Petersburg. Snow fell continually. Storms raged in from the sea. The little villages of northern Sweden and Finland were buried in snow to the chimney-tops. Wherever he happened to be at nightfall, he knocked at the door of a fisherman's hut. Wherever he was taken in, he slept, whether on the bare floor before the hearth, or among the dogs of the outhouses, or in the hay-lofts of the cattle sheds. No more waiting for Ledyard! Storm or shine, early and late, he tramped two hundred miles a week for seven weeks from the time he left Stockholm. When he marched into St. Petersburg on the 19th of March, men hardly knew whether to regard him as a madman or a wonder.

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