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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter52)

2006-09-08 19:49

  CHAPTER LII Travelling to the Great City

  He's a bad failure that ain't king in some little corner —— Sayings of Sylvanne Sylvanne

  The children were not astir when Rolf was off in the morning. He caught a glimpse of Annette, still asleep under the red parasol, but the dress goods and the brass buttons had fallen to the floor. He stepped into the canoe. The dead calm of early morning was on the water, and the little craft went skimming and wimpling across. In half an hour it was beached at Callan's. In a little more than an hour's jog and stride he was at Warren's, ready for work. As he marched in, strong and brisk, his colour up, his blue eyes kindled with the thought of seeing Albany, the trader could not help being struck by him, especially when he remembered each of their meetings —— meetings in which he discerned a keen, young mind of good judgment, one that could decide quickly.

  Gazing at the lithe, red-checked lad, he said: "Say, Rolf, air ye an Injun?? "

  "No, sir."

  "Air ye a half-breed?"

  "No, I'm a Yank; my name is Kittering; born and bred in Redding, Connecticut."

  "Well, I swan, ye look it. At fust I took ye fur an Injun; ye did look dark (and Rolf laughed inside, as he thought of that butternut dye), but I'm bound to say we're glad yer white."

  "Here, Bill, this is Rolf, Rolf Kittering, he'll go with ye to Albany." Bill, a loose-jointed, middle-aged, flat-footed, large- handed, semi-loafer, with keen gray eyes, looked up from a bundle he was roping.

  Then Warren took Rolf aside and explained: "I'm sending down all my fur this trip. There's ten bales of sixty pounds each, pretty near my hull fortune. I want it took straight to Vandam's, and, night or day, don't leave it till ye git it there. He's close to the dock. I'm telling ye this for two reasons: The river's swarming with pirates and sneaks. They'd like nothing better than to get away with a five-hundred-dollar bundle of fur; and, next, while Bill is A1 on the river and true as steel, he's awful weak on the liquor; goes crazy, once it's in him. And I notice you've always refused it here. So don't stop at Troy, an' when ye get to Albany go straight past there to Vandam's. You'll have a letter that'll explain, and he'll supply the goods yer to bring back. He's a sort of a partner, and orders from him is same as from me.

  "I suppose I ought to go myself, but this is the time all the fur is coming in here, an' I must be on hand to do the dickering, and there's too much much to risk it any longer in the storehouse."

  "Suppose," said Rolf, "Bill wants to stop at Troy?"

  "He won't. He's all right, given he's sober. I've give him the letter."

  "Couldn't you give me the letter, in case?"

  "Law, Bill'd get mad and quit."

  "He'll never know."

  "That's so; I will." So when they paddled away, Bill had an important letter of instructions ostentatiously tucked in his outer pocket. Rolf, unknown to any one else but Warren, had a duplicate, wrapped in waterproof, hidden in an inside pocket.

  Bill was A1 on the river; a kind and gentle old woodman, much stronger than he looked. He knew the value of fur and the danger of wetting it, so he took no chances in doubtful rapids. This meant many portages and much hard labour.

  I wonder if the world realizes the hard labour of the portage or carry? Let any man who seeks for light, take a fifty-pound sack of flour on his shoulders and walk a quarter of a mile on level ground in cool weather. Unless he is in training, he will find it a heavy burden long before he is half-way. Suppose, instead of a flour sack, the burden has sharp angles; the bearer is soon in torture. Suppose the weight carried be double; then the strain is far more than doubled. Suppose, finally, the road be not a quarter mile but a mile, and not on level but through swamps, over rocks, logs, and roots, and the weather not cool, but suffocating summer weather in the woods, with mosquitoes boring into every exposed part, while both hands are occupied, steadying the burden or holding on to branches for help up steep places —— and then he will have some idea of the horror of the portage; and there were many of these, each one calling for six loaded and five light trips for each canoe-man. What wonder that men will often take chances in some fierce rapid, rather than to make a long carry through the fly-infested woods.

  It was weighty evidence of Bill's fidelity that again and again they made a portage around rapids he had often run, because in the present case he was in sacred trust of that much prized commodity —— fur.

  Eighty miles they called it from Warren's to Albany, but there were many halts and carries which meant long delay, and a whole week was covered before Bill and Rolf had passed the settlements of Glens Falls, Fort Edward, and Schuylerville, and guided their heavily laden canoe on the tranquil river, past the little town of Troy. Loafers hailed them from the bank, but Bill turned a deaf ear to all temptation; and they pushed on happy in the thought that now their troubles were over; the last rapid was past; the broad, smooth waters extended to their port.

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