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While hauling his crying sister on a small sled through the freezing snow, young Robbie Eunson recalls how their situation came about: In September 1856, Robbie's father Robert and his pregnant wife Mamie arrive in backwoods Wisconsin from the Shetland Islands in Scotland. Shocked to discover that Mamie's uncle, who had invited them, died in a fire three weeks earlier, the couple is deeply touched when their neighbors take them in and then help them to build a cabin on the site of the burned home. Robbie is born on 12 October, the day on which, as proud father Rob exclaims, Columbus "discovered America for us." On that same night, Rob, whose money is now exhausted, walks to a logging camp located twenty-five miles from the cabin. The Irish-American boss, Tom Cullen, gives Rob a job as a cutter, but when Cullen calls him a "Nordsky," Rob replies that although the Scandinavians are a fine race, he happens to be Scottish. Rob visits Mamie and the baby when he can, but Cullen, who continues to call him "Nordsky," rarely allows him to go home. Exasperated with Cullen's insults, Rob finally challenges his boss to a fight. When Rob defeats Cullen, the Irishman laughs, begins calling him "Scotty" and becomes his fast friend. Rob returns to his own trade of boatbuilding following the birth of his son Jimmie. Mamie, who has noticed that most of the ladies in the nearby village of Eureka know how to read, attends school with little Robbie. During the next few years, she and Rob have four more children--Kirk, Annabelle, Elizabeth and Jane. One day, Dr. Delbert informs the Eunsons that Kirk has contracted diphtheria. While Rob and the other children stay in an abandoned cabin in the woods, Mamie nurses Kirk. Robbie, now eleven, tells his worried father that when he is a man, he hopes to be just like him, and soon afterward, Mamie tells Rob that Kirk has recovered. At this news, Rob breaks down and weeps. When Rob and the children return home, the family happily reunites, but to Mamie's distress, Rob begins coughing almost immediately. Mamie tenderly cares for Rob until his death and then takes in sewing to support her family. Robbie offers to quit school and work for Cullen, but Mamie insists that he complete his education. Winter comes, and Mamie, exhausted, contracts typhoid fever. Robbie takes charge of the household, but several days before Christmas, Mamie calls him to her side and asks him to find good homes for the children. After praising her son for having truly been the man of the house, Mamie dies. During her funeral, the haughty Mrs. Runyon loudly asks what the villagers are to do with six orphans. Robbie asks that the children be allowed to spend Christmas together before being sent to the state orphanage, and Dr. Delbert consents to the request. After the smaller children have fallen asleep, Robbie and Jimmie make plans for distributing the children among the village families, and on Christmas Day, Robbie visits each of the chosen families. The Tylers, just sitting down to Christmas dinner, happily agree to take Annabelle, but because the family Robbie has chosen for Lizzie is away, he offers her to the childless couple who teach in the village school. Back at the cabin, Robbie and Jimmie are distressed to see Mrs. Runyon trying to leave with little Jane. The brothers bar the door, but Mrs. Runyon threatens to return for Jane after speaking with "the council." Explaining that there is now no time to send Kirk to the family he had in mind, Robbie gruffly orders the tearful boy to report to another family. Tired and sad, Robbie collapses, but he soon regains his composure and bids Jimmie farewell. As Jimmie knocks on the door of Mrs. Raiden, whose daughters have always considered him "cute," Robbie bundles Jane into a small sled and hauls her through the darkness to Berlin, ten miles away. A kindly woman agrees to take Jane, inviting Robbie to come and visit her sometime. Robbie hesitates for a moment and then continues through the snow to Cullen's logging camp.