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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter69)

2006-09-08 19:59

  CHAPTER LXIX Rolf Makes a Record

  Twelve miles were gone when the foreglow —— the first cold dawn-light showed, and shining across his path ahead was a mighty rolling stream. Guided by the now familiar form of Goodenow Peak he made for this, the Hudson's lordly flood. There was his raft securely held, with paddle and pole near by, and he pushed off with all the force of his young vigour. Jumping and careening with the stream in its freshet flood, the raft and its hardy pilot were served with many a whirl and some round spins, but the long pole found bottom nearly everywhere, and not ten minutes passed before the traveller sprang ashore, tied up his craft, then swung and tramped and swung.

  Over the hills of Vanderwhacker, under the woods of Boreas. Tramp, tramp, splash, tramp, wringing and sopping, but strong and hot, tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp. The partridge whirred from his path, the gray deer snorted, and the panther sneaked aside. Tramp, tramp, trot, trot, and the Washburn Ridge was blue against the sunrise. Trot, trot, over the low, level, mile-long slope he went, and when the Day- god burnt the upper hill-rim he was by brown Tahawus flood and had covered eighteen miles.

  By the stream he stopped to drink. A partridge cock, in the pride of spring, strutted arrogantly on a log. Rolf drew his pistol, fired, then hung the headless body while he made a camper's blaze: an oatcake, the partridge, and river water were his meal. His impulse was to go on at once. His reason, said "go slow." So he waited for fifteen minutes. Then again, beginning with a slow walk, he ere long added to his pace. In half an hour he was striding and in an hour the steady "trot, trot," that slackened only for the hills or swamps. In an hour more he was on the Washburn Ridge, and far away in the east saw Schroon Lake that empties in the river Schroon; and as he strode along, exulting in his strength, he sang in his heart for joy. Again a gray wolf cantered on his trail, and the runner laughed, without a thought of fear. He seemed to know the creature better now; knew it as a brother, for it gave no hostile sound, but only seemed to trot, trot, for the small joy of running with a runner, as a swallow or an antelope will skim along by a speeding train. For an hour or more it matched his pace, then left as though its pleasant stroll was done, and Rolf kept on and on and on.

  The spring sun soared on high, the day grew warm at noon. Schroon River just above the lake was in his path, and here he stopped to rest. Here, with the last of his oatcake and a little tea, he made his final meal; thirty eight miles had he covered since he rose; his clothes were torn, his moccasins worn, but his legs were strong, his purpose sure; only twenty-two miles now, and his duty would be done; his honours won. What should he do, push on at once? No, he meant to rest an hour. He made a good fire by a little pool, and using a great mass of caribou moss as a sponge, he had a thorough rub-down. He got out his ever- ready needle and put his moccasins in good shape; he dried his clothes and lay on his back till the hour was nearly gone. Then he girded himself for this the final run. He was weary, indeed, but he was far from spent, and the iron will that had yearly grown in force was there with its unconquerable support.

  Slowly at start, soon striding, and at last in the famous jog trot of the scout he went. The sky was blackened with clouds at length, and the jealous, howling east wind rolled up in rain; the spindrift blurred the way; the heavy showers of spring came down and drenched him; but his pack was safe and he trotted on and on. Then long, deep swamps of alder barred his path, and, guided only by the compass, Rolf pushed in and through and ever east. Barely a mile an hour in the thickest part he made, but lagged not; drenched and footsore, warm and torn, but doggedly, steadily on. At three he had made a scant seven miles; then the level, open wood of Thunderbolt was reached and his stride became a run; trot, trot, trot, at six-mile gait, for but fifteen miles remained. Sustained, inspired, the bringer of good news, he halted not and faltered not, but on and on.

  Tramp tramp, tramp tramp —— endless, tireless, hour by hour. At five he was on Thunder Creek, scarce eight miles more to the goal; his limbs were sore, his feet were sore; bone tired was he, but his heart was filled with joy

  "News of battle, news of victory" he was bringing, and the thought lent strength; the five mires passed, the way was plain with good roads now, but the runner was so weary. He was striding, his running was done, the sun was low in the west, his feet were bleeding, the courier was brain worn and leg worn, but he strode and strode. He passed by homes but heeded them not.

  "Come in and rest," called one who saw nothing but a weary traveller. Rolf shook his head, but gave no word and strode along. A mile —— a short mile now; he must hold out; if he sat down he feared he could not rise. He came at last in sight of the fort; then, gathering all his force, he broke into a trot, weak, so weak that had he fallen, he could scarcely have got up, and slow, but faster than a walk: and so, as the red sun sank, he passed the gate. He had no right to give tidings to any but the general, yet they read it in his eyes. The guard broke into a cheer, and trotting still, though reeling, Rolf had kept his word, had made his run, had brought the news, and had safely reached his goal.

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