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Chapter 5

ABOUT RUNNING AWAY TO THE INDIAN RESERVATION ON A CANAL-BOAT, AND HOW THE PLAN FAILED

Now, anybody can see the kind of a boy that Jim Leonard was, pretty well; and the strange thing of it was that he could have such a boy as Pony Baker under him so. But, anyway, Pony liked Jim, as much as his mother hated him, and he believed everything Jim said in spite of all that had happened.

After Jim promised to find out whether there was any Indian reservation that you could walk to, he pretended to study out in the geography that the only reservation there was in the State was away up close to Lake Erie, but it was not far from the same canal that ran through the Boy’s Town to the lake, and Jim said, “I’ll tell you what, Pony! The way to do will be to get into a canal-boat, somehow, and that will take you to the reservation without your hardly having to walk a step; and you can have fun on the boat, too.”

Pony agreed that this would be the best way, but he did not really like the notion of living so long among the Indians that he would not remember his father and mother when he saw them; he would like to stay till he was pretty nearly grown up, and then come back in a chief’s dress, with eagle plumes all down his back and a bow in his hand, and scare them a little when he first came in the house and then protect them from the tribe and tell them who he was, and enjoy their surprise. But he hated to say this to Jim Leonard, because he would think he was afraid to live with the Indians always. He hardly dared to ask him what the Indians would do to him if they did not adopt him, but he thought he had better, and Jim said:

“Oh, burn you, maybe. But it ain’t likely but what they’ll adopt you; and if they do they’ll take you down to the river, and wash you and scrub you, so’s to get all the white man off, and then pull out your hair, a hair at a time, till there’s nothing but the scalp-lock left, so that your enemies can scalp you handy; and then you’re just as good an Indian as anybody, and nobody can pick on you, or anything. The thing is how to find the canal-boat.”

The next morning at school it began to be known that Pony Baker was going to run off on a canal-boat to see the Indians, and all the fellows said how he ought to do it. One of the fellows said that he ought to get to drive the boat horses, and another that he ought to hide on board in the cargo, and come out when the boat was passing the reservation; and another that he ought to go for a cabin-boy on one of the passenger-packets, and then he could get to the Indians twice as soon as he could on a freight-boat. But the trouble was that Pony was so little that they did not believe they would take him either for a driver or a cabin-boy; and he said he was not going to hide in the cargo, because the boats were full of rats, and he was not going to have rats running over him all the time.

Some of the fellows thought this showed a poor spirit in Pony, and wanted him to take his dog along and hunt the rats; they said he could have lots of fun; but others said that the dog would bark as soon as he began to hunt the rats, and then Pony would be found out and put ashore in a minute. The fellows could not think what to do till at last one of them said:

“You know Piccolo Wright?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you know his father has got a boat?”

“Yes. Well?”

“Well, and he’s got a horse, too; and everything.”

“Well, what of it?”

“Get Piccolo to hook the boat and take Pony to the reservation.”

The fellows liked this notion so much that they almost hurrahed, and they could hardly wait till school was out and they could go and find Piccolo and ask him whether he would do it. They found him up at the canal basin, where he was fishing off the stern of his father’s boat. He was a pretty big boy, though he was not so very old, and he had a lazy, funny face and white hair; and the fellows called him Piccolo because he was learning to play the piccolo flute, and talked about it when he talked at all, but that was not often. He was one of those boys who do not tan or freckle in the sun, but peel, and he always had some loose pieces of fine skin hanging to his nose.

All the fellows came up and began holloing at once, and telling him what they wanted him to do, and he thought it was a first-rate notion, but he kept on fishing, without getting the least bit excited; and he did not say whether he would do it or not, and when the fellows got tired of talking they left him and began to look round the boat. There was a little cabin at one end, and all the rest of the boat was open, and it had been raining, or else the boat had leaked, and it was pretty full of water; and the fellows got down on some loose planks that were floating there, and had fun pushing them up and down, and almost forgot what they had come for. They found a long pump leaning against the side of the boat, with its spout out over the gunwale, and they asked Piccolo if they might pump, and he said they might, and they pumped nearly all the water out after they had got done having fun on the planks.

Some of them went into the cabin and found a little stove there, where Pony could cook his meals, and a bunk where he could sleep, or keep in out of the rain, and they said they wished they were going to run off, too. They took more interest than he did, but they paid him a good deal of attention, and he felt that it was great to be going to run off, and he tried not to be homesick, when he thought of being down there alone at night, and nobody near but Piccolo out on the towpath driving the horse.

The fellows talked it all over, and how they would do. They said that Piccolo ought to hook the boat some Friday night, and the sooner the better, and get a good start before Saturday morning. They were going to start with Pony, and perhaps travel all night with him, and then get off and sleep in the woods, to rest themselves, and then walk home; and the reason that Piccolo ought to hook the boat Friday night was that they could have all Saturday to get back, when there was no school.

If the boat went two miles an hour, which she always did, even if she was loaded with stone from Piccolo’s father’s quarry, she would be fifteen miles from the Boy’s Town by daybreak; and if they kept on travelling night and day, and Pony drove the horse part of the time, they could reach the Indian reservation Monday evening, for they would not want to travel Sunday, because it was against the law, and it was wicked, anyway. If they travelled on Sunday, and a storm came up, just as likely as not the boat would get struck by lightning, and if it did, the lightning would run out along the rope and kill the horse and Piccolo, too, if he was riding. But the way for Piccolo to do was always to come aboard when it began to rain, and that would keep Pony company a little, and they could make the horse go by throwing stones at him.

Pony and Piccolo ought to keep together as much as they could, especially at night, so that if there were robbers, they could defend the boat better. Of course, they could not make the horse go by throwing stones at him in the dark, and the way for them to do was for Pony to get out and ride behind Piccolo. Besides making it safer against robbers, they could keep each other from going to sleep by talking, or else telling stories; or if one of them did doze off, the other could hold him on; and they must take turn about sleeping in the daytime.

But the best way of all to scare the robbers was to have a pistol, and fire it off every little once in a while, so as to let them know that the boat was armed. One of the fellows that had a pistol said he would lend it to Pony if Pony would be sure to send it back from the reservation by Piccolo, for he should want it himself on the Fourth, which was coming in about three weeks. Another fellow that had five cents, which he was saving up till he could get ten, to buy a pack of shooting-crackers, said he would lend it to Pony to buy powder, if he only felt sure that he could get it back to him in time. All the other fellows said he could do it easily, but they did not say how; one of them offered to go and get the powder at once, so as to have it ready.

But Pony told him it would not be of any use, for he had promised his mother that he would not touch a pistol or powder before the Fourth. None of the fellows seemed to think it was strange that he should be willing to run away from home, and yet be so anxious to keep his promise to his mother that he would not use a pistol to defend himself from robbers; and none of them seemed to think it was strange that they should not want Piccolo, if he hooked his father’s boat, to travel on Sunday with it.

After a while Piccolo came to the little hatch-door, and looked down into the cabin where the boys were sitting and talking at the tops of their voices; but in about a minute he vanished, very suddenly for him, and they heard him pumping, and then before they knew it, they heard a loud, harsh voice shouting, “Heigh, there!”

They looked round, and at the open window of the cabin on the land-side they saw a man’s face, and it seemed to fill the whole window. They knew it must be Piccolo’s father, and they just swarmed up the gangway all in a bunch. Some of them fell, but these hung on to the rest, somehow, and they all got to the deck of the cabin together, and began jumping ashore, so that Piccolo’s father could not catch them. He was standing on the basin bank, saying something, but they did not know what, and they did not stop to ask, and they began to run every which way.

They all got safely ashore, except Jim Leonard; he fell over the side of the boat between it and the bank, but he scrambled up out of the water like lightning, and ran after the rest. He was pretty long-legged, and he soon caught up, but he was just raining water from his clothes, and it made the fellows laugh so that they could hardly run, to hear him swish when he jolted along. They did not know what to do exactly, till one of them said they ought to go down to the river and go in swimming, and they could wring Jim Leonard’s clothes out, and lay them on the shore to dry, and stay in long enough to let them dry. That was what they did, and they ran round through the backs of the gardens and the orchards, and through the alleys, and climbed fences, so that nobody could see them. The day was pretty hot, and by the time they got to the river they were all sweating, so that Jim’s clothes were not much damper than the others. He had nothing but a shirt and trousers on, anyway.

After that they did not try to get Piccolo to hook his father’s boat, for they said that his father might get after them any time, and he would have a right to do anything he pleased to them, if he caught them. They could not think of any other boat that they could get, and they did not know how Pony could reach the reservation without a canal-boat. That was the reason why they had to give up the notion of his going to the Indians; and if anybody had told them that the Indians were going to come to Pony they would have said he was joking, or else crazy; but this was really what happened. It happened a good while afterwards; so long afterwards that they had about forgotten he ever meant to run off, and they had got done talking about it.

William Dean Howells

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