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   Chapter 23 No.23

What Might Have Been Expected By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 7687

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Crossing the Creek.

"Now, then," said Harry, "here's the boat and a good pole, and you've nothing to do, Harvey, but just to get in and push yourself over to your station as fast as you can."

But the situation did not seem to strike Harvey very favorably. He looked rather dissatisfied with the arrangement made for him.

"I can't swim," he said. "At least, not much, you know."

"Well, who wants you to swim?" said Harry, laughing. "That's a pretty joke. Are you thinking of swimming across, and towing the boat after you? You can push her over easy enough; that pole will reach the bottom anywhere."

"Dat's so," said old Lewston. "It'll touch de bottom ob de water, but I don't know 'bout de bottom ob de mud. Ye musn't push her down too deep. Dar's 'bout as much mud as water out dar in de creek."

The more they talked about the matter, the greater became Harvey's disinclination to go over. He was not a coward, but he was not used to the water or the management of a boat, and the trip seemed much more difficult to him than it would have appeared to a boy accustomed to boating.

"I tell you what we'll do," cried Harry, at last. "You take my station, Harvey, and I'll go over and work your end of the line."

There was no opposition to this plan, and so Harry hurried off with Harvey to Lewston's cabin and helped him to make the connections and get the line in working order at that end, and then he ran down to the boat, jumped in, and Lewston pushed him off.

Harry poled the boat along quite easily through the shallow water, and when he got farther out he found that he proceeded with still greater ease, only he did not go straight across, but went a little too much down stream.

But he pushed out strongly toward the opposite shore, and soon reached the middle of the creek. Then he began to go down stream very fast indeed. Push and pole as he would, he seemed to have no control whatever over the boat. He had had no idea that the current would be so strong.

On he went, right down toward the bridge, and as the boat swept over it, one end struck an upright beam that projected above the water, and the clumsy craft was jerked around with such violence that Harry nearly tumbled into the creek.

He heard Lewston and Harvey shouting to him, but he paid no attention to them. He was working with all his strength to get the boat out of the current and into shallower water. But as he found that he was not able to do that, he made desperate efforts to stop the boat by thrusting his pole into the bottom. It was not easy to get the pole into the mud, the current was so strong; but he succeeded at last, by pushing it out in front of him, in forcing it into the bottom; and then, in a moment, it was jerked out of his hand, as the boat swept on, and, a second time, he came near tumbling overboard.

Now he was helpless. No, there was the short pole that Lewston had left in the boat.

He picked it up, but he could do nothing with it. If it had been an oar, now, it might have been of some use. He tried to pull up the seat, but it was nailed fast.

On he rapidly floated, down the middle of the stream; the boat sometimes sidewise, sometimes with one end foremost, and sometimes the other. Very soon he lost sight of Lewston and Harvey, and the last he saw of them they were hurrying by the edge of the water, in the woods. Now he sat down, and looked about him. The creek appeared to be getting wider and wider, and he thought that if he went on at that rate he must soon come to the river. The country seemed unfamiliar to him. He had never seen it, from the water, when it was overflowed in this way.

He passed a wide stretch of cultivated fields, mostly planted in tobacco, but he could not recollect what farmer had tobacco down by the creek this year. There were some men at work on

a piece of rising ground, but they were a long way off. Still, Harry shouted to them, but they did not appear to hear him.

Then he passed on among the trees again, bumping against stumps, turning and twisting, but always keeping out in the middle of the current. He began to be very uneasy, especially as he now saw, what he had not noticed before, that the boat was leaking badly.

He made up his mind that he must do something soon, even if he had to take off his clothes and jump in and try to swim to shore. But this, he was well aware, would be hard work in such a current.

Looking hurriedly around, he saw, a short distance before him, a tree that appeared to stand almost in the middle of the creek, with its lower branches not very high above the water. The main current swirled around this tree, and the boat was floating directly toward it.

Harry's mind was made up in an instant. He stood up on the seat, and as the boat passed under the tree he seized the lowest branch.

In a moment the boat was jerked from under his feet, and he hung suspended over the rushing water.

He gripped the branch with all his strength, and giving his legs a swing, got his feet over it. Then, after two or three attempts, he managed to draw himself up and get first one leg and then his whole body over the branch. Then he sat up and shuffled along to the trunk, against which he leaned with one arm around it, all in a perspiration, and trembling with the exertion and excitement.

When he had rested awhile, he stood up on the limb and looked toward the land. There, to his joy, he saw, at a little distance, a small log-house, and there was some one living in it, for he saw smoke coming from the log and mud chimney that was built up against one end of the cabin.

Harry gave a great shout, and then another, and another, and presently a negro woman came out of the cabin and looked out over the creek. Then three colored children came tumbling out, and they looked out over the creek.

Then Harry shouted again, and the woman saw him.

"Hello, dar!" she cried. "Who's dat?"

"It's me! Harry Loudon."

"Harry Loudon?" shouted the woman, running down to the edge of the water. "Mah'sr John Loudon's son Harry? What you doin' dar? Is you fishin'?"

"Fishing!" cried Harry. "No! I want to get ashore. Have you a boat?"

"A boat! Lors a massy! I got no boat, Mah'sr Harry. How did ye git dar?"

"Oh, I got adrift, and my boat's gone! Isn't there any man about?"

"No man about here," said the woman. "My ole man's gone off to de railroad. But he'll be back dis evenin'."

"I can't wait here till he comes," cried Harry. "Haven't you a rope and some boards to make a raft?"

"Lor', no! Mah'sr Harry. I got no boards."

"Tell ye what ye do, dar," shouted the biggest boy, a woolly-heady urchin, with nothing on but a big pair of trousers that came up under his arms and were fastened over his shoulders by two bits of string, "jist you come on dis side and jump down, an' slosh ashore."

"It's too deep," cried Harry.

"No, 'tain't," said the boy. "I sloshed out to dat tree dis mornin'."

"You did, you Pomp!" cried his mother. "Oh! I'll lick ye fur dat, when I git a-hold of ye!"

"Did you, really?" cried Harry.

"Yes, I did," shouted the undaunted Pomp. "I sloshed out dar an' back agin."

"But the water's higher now," said Harry.

"No, 'tain't," said the woman. "Tain't riz much dis mornin'. Done all de risin' las' night. Dat tree's jist on de edge of de creek bank. If Pomp could git along dar, you kin, Mah'sr Harry! Did ye go out dar, sure 'nuff, you Pomp? Mind, if ye didn't, I'll lick ye!"

"Yes, I did," said Pomp; "clar out dar an' back agin."

"Then I'll try it," cried Harry; and clambering around the trunk of the tree, he jumped off as far as he could toward shore.

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