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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter54)

2006-09-08 19:50

  CHAPTER LIV The Rescue of Bill

  Bales were ready and the canoe newly gummed three days after their arrival, but still no sign of Bill. A messengers sent to the brother-in-law's home reported that he had not been seen for two days. In spite of the fact that Albany numbered nearly "six thousand living human souls," a brief search by the docksharps soon revealed the sinner's retreat. His worst enemy would have pitied him; a red-eyed wreck; a starved, sick and trembling weakling; conscience-stricken, for the letter intrusted to him was lost; the cargo stolen —— so his comforters had said —— and the raw country lad murdered and thrown out into the river. What wonder that he should shun the light of day! And when big Peter with Rolf in the living flesh, instead of the sheriff, stood before him and told him to come out of that and get into the canoe, he wept bitter tears of repentance and vowed that never, never, never, as long as he lived would he ever again let liquor touch his lips. A frame of mind which lasted in strength for nearly one day and a half, and did not entirely varnish for three.

  They passed Troy without desiring to stop, and began their fight with the river. It was harder than when coming, for their course was against stream when paddling, up hill when portaging, the water was lower, the cargo was heavier, and Bill not so able. Ten days it took them to cover those eighty miles. But they came out safely, cargo and all, and landed at Warren's alive and well on the twenty-first day since leaving.

  Bill had recovered his usual form. Gravely and with pride he marched up to Warren and handed out a large letter which read outside, "Bill of Lading," and when opened, read: "The bearer of this, Bill Bymus, is no good. Don't trust him to Albany any more. (Signed) Peter Vandam."

  Warren's eyes twinkled, but he said nothing. He took Rolf aside and said, "Let's have it." Rolf gave him the real letter that, unknown to Bill, he had carried, and Warren learned some things that he knew before.

  Rolf's contract was for a month; it had ten days to run, and those ten days were put in weighing sugar, checking accounts, milking cows, and watching the buying of fur. Warren didn't want him to see too much of the fur business, but Rolf gathered quickly that these were the main principles: Fill the seller with liquor, if possible; "fire water for fur" was the idea; next, grade all fur as medium or second-class, when cash was demanded, but be easy as long as payment was to be in trade. That afforded many loopholes between weighing, grading, charging, and shrinkage, and finally he noticed that Albany prices were 30 to 50 per cent. higher than Warren prices. Yet Warren was reckoned a first-class fellow, a good neighbour, and a member of the church. But it was understood everywhere that fur, like horseflesh, was a business with moral standards of its own.

  A few days before their contract was up, Warren said: "How'd ye like to renew for a month?"

  "Can't; I promised to help Van Trumper with his harvest."

  "What does he pay ye?"

  "Seventy-five cents a day and board."

  "I'll make it a dollar."

  "I've given my word," said Rolf, in surprise.

  "Hey ye signed papers?"

  "They're not needed. The only use of signed papers is to show ye have given your word," said Rolf, quoting his mother, with rising indignation.

  The trader sniffed a little contemptuously and said nothing. But he realized the value of a lad who was a steady, intelligent worker, wouldn't drink, and was absolutely bound by a promise; so, after awhile, he said: "Wall, if Van don't want ye now, come back for a couple of weeks."

  Early in the morning Rolf gathered the trifles he had secured for the little children and the book he had bought for Annette, a sweet story of a perfect girl who died and went to heaven, the front embellished with a thrilling wood-cut. Then he crossed the familiar five-mile portage at a pace that in an hour brought him to the lake.

  The greeting at Van's was that of a brother come home.

  "Vell, Rolf, it's goood to see ye back. It's choost vat I vented. Hi, Marta, I told it you, yah. I say, now I hope ze good Gott send Rolf. Ach, how I am shpoil!"

  Yes, indeed. The hay was ready; the barley was changing. So Rolf took up his life on the farm, doing work that a year before was beyond his strength, for the spirit of the hills was on him, with its impulse of growth, its joy in effort, its glory in strength. And all who saw the longlegged, long-armed, flat- backed youth plying fork or axe or hoe, in some sort ventured a guess: "He'll be a good 'un some day; the kind o' chap to keep friendly with.

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