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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter70)

2006-09-08 19:59

  CHAPTER LXX Van Trumper's Again

  Why should the scout bringing good news be differently received from the one that brings the ill? He did not make, the news, he simply did his duty; the same in both cases. He is merely the telegraph instrument. Yet it is so ever. King Pharaoh slew the bearer of ill-tidings; that was human nature. And General Hampton brought in the tall stripling to his table, to honour him, to get the fullest details, to glory in every item as though it all were due to himself. Rolf's wonderful journey was dilated on, and in the reports to Albany he was honourably mentioned for exceptionally meritorious service as a bearer of despatches.

  For three days Flying Kittering was hero of the post; then other runners came with other news and life went on.

  Hitherto the scouts had worn no uniform, but the execution of one of their number, who was captured by the British and treated as a spy, resulted in orders that all be formally enlisted and put in uniform.

  Not a few withdrew from the service; some, like Quonab, reluctantly consented, but Rolf was developing the fighting spirit, and was proud to wear the colours.

  The drill was tedious enough, but it was of short duration for him. Despatches were to go to Albany. The general, partly to honour Rolf, selected him.

  "Are you ready for another run, Kittering?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Then prepare to start as soon as possible for Fort George and Albany. Do you want a mate?"

  "I should like a paddler as far as Fort George."

  "Well, pick your man."

  "Quonab."

  And when they set out, for the first time Rolf was in the stern, the post of guidance and command. So once more the two were travelling again with Skookum in the bow. It was afternoon when they started and the four-mile passage of the creek was slow, but down the long, glorious vista of the noble George they went at full canoe-flight, five miles an hour, and twenty-five miles of the great fair-way were reeled and past when they lighted their nightly fire.

  At dawn-cry of the hawk they sped away, and in spite of a rising wind they made six miles in two hours.

  As they approached the familiar landing of Van Trumper's farm, Skookum began to show a most zestful interest that recalled the blackened pages of his past. "Quonab, better use that," and Rolf handed a line with which Skookum was secured and thus led to make a new record, for this was the first time in his life that he landed at Van Trumper's without sacrificing a chicken in honour of the joyful occasion.

  They entered the house as the family were sitting down to breakfast.

  "Mein Hemel! mein Hemel! It is Rolf and Quonab; and vere is dot tam dog? Marta, vere is de chickens? Vy, Rolf, you bin now a giant, yah. Mein Gott, it is I am glad! I did tink der cannibals you had eat; is it dem Canadian or cannibal? I tink it all one the same, yah!"

  Marta was actually crying, the little ones were climbing over Rolf's knee, and Annette, tall and sixteen now, stood shyly by, awaiting a chance to shake hands. Home is the abiding place of those we love; it may be a castle or a cave, a shanty or a chateau, a moving van, a tepee, or a canal boat, a fortress or the shady side of a bush, but it is home, if there indeed we meet the faces that are ever in the heart, and find the hands whose touch conveys the friendly glow. Was there any other spot on earth where he could sit by the fire and feel that "hereabout are mine own, the people I love?" Rolf knew it now —— Van Trumper's was his home.

  Talks of the war, of disasters by land, and of glorious victories on the sea, where England, long the unquestioned mistress of the waves, had been humbled again and again by the dauntless seamen of her Western blood; talks of big doings by the nation, and, yet more interesting, small doings by the travellers, and the breakfast passed all too soon. The young scout rose, for he was on-duty, but the long rollers on the lake forbade the going forth. Van's was a pleasant place to wait, but he chafed at the delay; his pride would have him make a record on every journey. But wait he must. Skookum tied safely to his purgatorial post whined indignantly —— and with head cocked on one side, picked out the very hen he would like to utilize —— as soon as released from his temporary embarrassment. Quonab went out on a rock to bum some tobacco and pray for calm, and Rolf, ever active, followed Van to look over the stock and buildings, and hear of minor troubles. The chimney was unaccountably given to smoking this year. Rolf took an axe and with two blows cut down a vigorous growth shrubbery that stood above the chimney on the west, and the smoking ceased. Buck ox had a lame foot and would allow no one even to examine it. But a skilful ox- handler easily hobbles an ox, throws him near some small tree, and then, by binding the lame foot to the tree, can have a free hand. It proved a simple matter, a deep-sunk, rusty nail. And when the nail was drawn and the place washed clean with hot brine, kind nature was left in confidence to do the rest. They drifted back to the house now. Tomas met them shouting out a mixture of Dutch and English and holding by the cover Annette's book of the "Good Girl." But its rightful owner rescued the precious volume and put it on the shelf.

  "Have you read it through, Annette?"

  "Yes," was the reply, for she had learned to read before they left Schuylerville.

  "How do you like it?"

  "Didn't like it a bit; I like 'Robinson Crusoe'," was the candid reply.

  The noon hour came, still the white rollers were pounding the shore.

  "If it does not calm by one o'clock I'll go on afoot."

  So off he went with the packet, leaving Quonab to follow and await his return at Fort George. In Schuyler settlement he spent the night and at noon next day was in Albany.

  How it stirred his soul to see the busy interest, the marching of men, the sailing of vessels, and above all to hear of more victories on the high seas. What mattered a few frontier defeats in the north, when the arrogant foe that had spurned and insulted them before the world had now been humbled again and again.

  Young Van Cortlandt was away, but the governor's reception of him reflected the electric atmosphere —— the country's pride in her sons.

  Rolf had a matter of his own to settle. At the bookseller's he asked for and actually secured a copy of the great book —— "Robinson Crusoe." It was with a thrilling feeling of triumph that he wrote Annette's name in it and stowed it in his bag.

  He left Albany next day in the gray dawn. Thanks to his uniform, he got a twenty-five mile lift with a traveller who drove a fast team, and the blue water was glinting back the stars when he joined Quonab at Fort George, some sixty miles away.

  In the calm betwixt star-peep and sun-up they were afloat. It was a great temptation to stop at Hendrik's for a spell, but breakfast was over, the water was calm, and duty called him. He hallooed, then they drew near enough to hand the book ashore. Skookum growled, probably at the hens, and the family waved their aprons as he sped on. Thirty miles of lake and four miles of Ticonderoga Creek they passed and the packet was delivered in four days and three hours since leaving.

  The general smiled and his short but amply sufficient praise was merely, "You're a good 'un."

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