Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
We left the logs, and walked to Cornwall, and took a sloop down the river. It was an American boat, bound for Quebec with pipe-staves. It had put in at Cornwall when the storm began. The captain said that the other sections of our raft had passed safely. In the dusk of the early evening a British schooner brought us to.
"Wonder what that means?" said the skipper, straining his eyes in the dusk,
A small boat, with three officers, came along-side. They climbed aboard, one of them carrying a lantern. They were armed with swords and pistols. We sat in silence around the cockpit. They scanned each of us carefully in the light of the lantern. It struck me as odd they should look so closely at our hands.
"Wha' d' ye want?" the skipper demanded. "This man," said one of them, pointing to D'ri. "He's a British sailor. We arrest him--"
He got no farther. D'ri's hand had gone out like the paw of a painter and sent him across the cockpit. Before I knew what was up, I saw the lank body of D'ri leaping backward into the river. I heard a splash and a stroke of his long arms, and then all was still. I knew he was swimming under water to get away. The officers made for their boat. My blood was up, and I sprang at the last of them, giving him a hard shove as he was climbing over, so that he fell on the boat, upsetting it. They had business enough then for a little, and began hailing for help. I knew I had done a foolish thing, and ran forward, climbing out upon the bowsprit, and off with my coat and vest, and dived into the dark water. I swam under as long as I could hold my breath, and then came up quietly, turning on my back in the quick current, and floating so my face only was above water. It had grown dark, and I could see nothing but the glimmer of the stars above me. My boots were heavy and dragged hard. I was going fast with the swift water, for at first I had heard a great hubbub on the schooner; but now its voices had grown faint. Other sounds were filling my ear.
After dark it is weird business to be swimming in strange water--the throne of mystery, of a thousand terrors. It is as if one's grave, full of the blackness of the undiscovered country, were pursuing him and ever yawning beneath his body. And that big river is the very tiger of waters, now stealing on pussy-footed, now rushing with cat-like swiftness, hissing and striking with currents that have in them mighty sinews. I was now companion of those cold-mouthed monsters of the river bottom, many of which I had seen. What if one should lay hold on me and drag me under? Then I thought of rapids that might smother me with their spray or dash me to hidden rocks. Often I lifted my ears, marvelling at the many voices of the river. Sometimes I thought I heard a roaring like that of the Sault, but it was only a ripple growing into fleecy waves that rocked me as in a cradle. The many sounds were above, below, and beside me, some weird and hollow and unearthly. I could hear rocks rolling over in their sleep on the bottom, and, when the water was still, a sound like the cropping of lily-pads away off on the river-margin. The bellowing of a cow terrified me as it boomed over the sounding sheet of water. The river rang like a mighty drum when a peal of far thunder beat upon it. I put out my hands to take a stroke or two as I lay on my back, and felt something floating under water. The feel of it filled me with horror. I swam faster; it was at my heels. I knew full well what my hand had touched--a human head floating face downward: I could feel the hair in my fingers. I turned and swam hard, but still it followed me. My knees hit upon it, and then my feet. Again and again I could feel it as I kicked. Its hand seemed to be clutching my trousers. I thought I should never get clear of the ghastly thing. I remember wondering if it were the body of poor D'ri. I turned aside, swimming another way, and then I felt it no more.
In the dead of the night I heard suddenly a kind of throbbing in the breast of the river. It grew to a noisy heart-beat as I listened. Again and again I heard it, striking, plashing, like a footfall, and coming nearer. Somehow I got the notion of a giant, like those of whom my mother had told me long ago, striding in the deep river. I could hear his boots dripping as he lifted them. I got an odd fear that he would step on me. Then I heard music and lifted my ears above water. It was a voice singing in the distance,--it must have been a mile off,--and what I had taken for a near footfall shrank away. I knew now it was the beat of oars in some far bay.
A long time after I had ceased to hear it, something touched my shoulder and put me in a panic. Turning over, I got a big mouthful of water. Then I saw it was a gang of logs passing me, and quickly caught one. Now, to me the top side of a log was as easy and familiar as a rocking-chair. In a moment I was sitting comfortably on my captive. A bit of rubbish, like that the wind had sown, trailed after the gang of logs, I felt it over, finding a straw hat and a piece of board some three feet long, with which latter I paddled vigorously.
It must have been long past midnight when I came to an island looming in the dark ahead. I sculled for it, stranding on a rocky beach, and alighted, hauling the log ashore. The moon came out as I stood wringing my trouser legs. I saw the island rose high and narrow and was thickly wooded. I remember saying something to myself, when I heard a quick stir in the bushes near me. Looking up, I saw a tall figure. Then came a familiar voice:--
"Thet you, Ray? Judas Priest!"
I was filled with joy at the sight of D'ri, and put my arms about him and lifted him off his feet, and, faith! I know my eyes were wet as my trousers. Then, as we sat down, I told him how I had taken to the river.
"Lucky ye done it!" said he. "Jerushy Jane! It is terrible lucky! They 'd 'a' tuk ye sartin. Somebody see thet jack on the back o' my hand, there 'n Cornwall, 'n' put 'em efter me. But I was bound 'n' detarmined they 'd never tek me alive, never! Ef I ever dew any fightin', 't ain't a-goin' t' be fer England, nut by a side o' sole-leather. I med up my mind I 'd begin the war right then an' there."
"That fellow never knew what hit him," I remarked. "He did n't get up for half a minute."
"Must 'a' swatted 'im powerful," said D'ri, as he felt his knuckles. "Gol-dum ther picturs! Go 'n' try t' yank a man right off a boat like thet air when they hain' no right t' tech 'im. Ef I 'd 'a' hed Ol' Beeswax, some on 'em 'd 'a' got hurt."
"How did you get here?" I inquired.
"Swum," said he. "Could n't go nowheres else. Current fetched me here. Splits et the head o' the island--boun' ter land ye right here. Got t' be movin'. They 'll be efter us, mebbe--'s the fust place they 'd look."
A few logs were stranded on the stony point of the island. We withed three others to mine, setting sail with two bits of driftwood for paddles. We pulled for the south shore, but the current carried us rapidly down-river. In a bay some two miles below we found, to our joy, the two sections of the big raft undergoing repairs. At daybreak D'ri put off in the woods for home.
"Don't like the idee o' goin' int' the British navy," said he. "'D ruther chop wood 'n' ketch bears over 'n St. Lawrence County. Good-by, Ray! Tek care o' yerself."
Those were the last words he said to me, and soon I was on the raft again, floating toward the great city of my dreams. I had a mighty fear the schooner would overhaul us, but saw nothing more of her. I got new clothes in Montreal, presenting myself in good repair. They gave me hearty welcome, those good friends of my mother, and I spent a full year in the college, although, to be frank, I was near being sent home more than once for fighting and other deviltry.
It was midsummer when I came back again. I travelled up the river road, past our island refuge of that dark night; past the sweeping, low-voiced currents that bore me up; past the scene of our wreck in the whirlwind; past the great gap in the woods, to stand open God knows how long. I was glad to turn my face to the south shore, for in Canada there was now a cold welcome for most Yankees, and my fists were sore with resenting the bitter taunt. I crossed in a boat from Iroquois, and D'ri had been waiting for me half a day at the landing. I was never so glad to see a man--never but once. Walking home I saw corn growing where the forest had been--acres of it.
"D'ri," said I, in amazement, "how did you ever do it? There 's ten years' work here."
"God helped us," said he, soberly. "The trees went over 'n the windfall,--slammed 'em down luk tenpins fer a mild er more,--an' we jes' burnt up the rubbish."
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.