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Chapter 8: A Dangerous River Crossing

Chapter 8: A Dangerous River Crossing

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Published by Gordon Clark

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Published by: Gordon Clark on Jan 17, 2011
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I should have been more careful, I realized later. I got cocky.It was midday. I was hungry and definitely tired from my quick pace all morning. I had been walking rapidly through the brush when I made a sharp turn to climb a low bluff at theriver’s edge. I figured that would be a good place to take a break and get a view upriver. Idropped my pack and sat down beside it, pulling out some jerky to chew on. The river was a fewhundred feet wide here, making a long sweeping curve to the opposite side. Still no sign of thestockade, of course, but I thought I recognized the white limestone formation on the opposite bank from when we came downriver in the pole boat. Except that I couldn’t remember whichday we saw it. Was it the second day out from the stockade, or the third day? I couldn’t say for sure.Munching on the dried meat, I rested in the shade of a large fallen oak tree. The tree stuck out over the bluff. Just a couple feet closer to the edge and it would have toppled right over, Ithought. as I glanced over at the root ball, and that’s when I saw them.I froze.There, in the woods, not fifty yards from where I sat, three Indians glided silently throughthe trees, moving from the direction I had just come. They were not running, exactly, but theywere moving quickly. I sensed they were tracking me.I was terrified. I tried to make myself as small and as invisible as possible behind thefallen tree. I was afraid to pull my pack in for fear they would hear me. I prayed they could notsee it for all the downed tree branches. I dared not look to see their progress. I just waited inagony, waited for them to find me, waited for them to snatch me, as I was sure they would.Though they moved quietly, I could still hear some movement as they came closer to thelittle summit where I lay hidden. It seemed they must surely hear the pounding of my heart, Ithought. Even more I tried to fold myself into a smaller little packet. Now I could distinctly hear the moccasins of the nearest Indian. He was passing the foot of the old oak, less than ten feetaway.A moment later I heard a bird call. It was so close I nearly jumped. But it was no bird, Irealized, it was the Indian. Another call answered, a little further away down the hill. Slowly Iturned my head toward the first sound.For just an instant I got a clear view of the Indian through all the branches and trees. Isaw the glint of an earring and the shadow of a tattoo on his arm as he went quickly by. My heart pounded again. This was the Indian who had scared me so at the stockade, the one with theleather leggings and the elegant French powder horn. He was still carrying the flintlock rifle.And it looked as though he meant to use it, on ME!
 
I figured he would come around the end of the tree and see my pack, then see me. I shutmy eyes tightly and waited.Several seconds went by, then a minute, then another. I was sure a savage was just aboutto grab for me. Not able to stand the suspense, I opened my eyes. Nothing.I looked around. At first I saw no one, and then at last I saw the back of the tall Indian,moving slower now through the trees some distance away. He joined up with his two partnersand they were walking away from me, down the incline and toward the river.I dared not believe my good fortune. I stayed hidden in a little ball. Perhaps they mean todouble back and catch me unawares, I thought. Or maybe they are going to get the rest of their tribe. I knew not what they planned to do, but I planned to stay right here until my poundingheart returned to normal.After what seemed like forever, I peered around. I searched the forest and the riverbank,yet saw nothing. I let me eyes take in my entire surroundings, and still I saw no Indians. Slowly,carefully, I pulled my pack toward me and repacked my foodstuffs. I felt for my knife on mythigh, just to reassure myself that it was still there. I stretched out my legs. It seemed I had beencurled up in a ball for days. My legs and back ached, my mouth was dry. Ever so slowly I got upon all fours and looked around. I wasn’t sure it was safe to move on yet.Why had the Indians passed by me? I wondered. Did they not see my tracks where Iwalked up the bluff, just before I sat down here. I looked for my track, and was surprised not tosee any footprints. Of course! The bluff was stony; flakes of loose limestone littered the moundwhere I had hidden. Apparently I did not leave any signs when I had turned to climb the bluff.That meant the Indians probably thought I was still ahead of them. That would put the Indians infront of me, between me and the stockade. I pondered this new thought for a while. What to do?If the Indians were behind me, I reasoned I had but a slim chance to outrun them. But if they are in front, then all they have to do is sit down and wait for me to come by. And sooner or later I would have to come by . . . unless . . . unless I crossed the river now. That would put meon the same side as the stockade and across from the Indians. The more I thought about my predicament, the more I realized that crossing the river here was my best escape.But how? I surely could not swim it. Though I swam very well, yet I could not swim thisriver, for the river was wide and the current strong, too strong and capricious for me. I wouldhave to build some sort of raft. I figured it would be best to do it at night, to prevent the Indiansfrom seeing me.Lying on my stomach, I scanned the riverbank, looking for anything that I could use as araft. And I watched closely at the way the river moved here. I realized that if I went upstream aquarter mile to start my crossing, the flow through the turn would carry me close to the opposite bank. But I could also see that the current was swift there, and dangerous. And to do it in thedark would make it even more dangerous. The only thing I could see that worked in my favor was that the opposite bank was sandy. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about tree brancheshanging into the water or steep cliffs to climb.I longed so for Father and Balthus. For three days I had been running so hard and beenscared so often that I hadn’t had time to really miss them. But now I missed them dearly. And I
 
missed our boat. How I wished we had never left the stockade, never left Baltimore. Most of all Iwished we were all together again. I began to cry. I sobbed quietly, forlornly, days of anguishseeping out in a weepy rush. I wept for those of my family killed on this cursed river, and for those still alive back home in Delaware. I wept for them because I could imagine them warm andwell-fed, enjoying each other’s company. I wept because it was beginning to dawn on me that Imight that never see them again. I wept because I was tired and hungry and terrified and feeling pretty hopeless. I wept for myself, in spite of myself.Finally, still snuffling, I wiped my nose and eyes on my sleeve. Looking around withtear-filled eyes, I guessed I had less than two hours of daylight left. I better get busy.Slowly and carefully I gathered up my belongings and moved down the bluff to theriverbank. I paid close attention to where and how I walked, trying to make the least visibletrack. I searched upstream through low bushes and past rock outcroppings, looking for any logsor large branches that I could use to fashion a raft. Finally I found a backwash where a smallstream joined the river. Several logs had washed down the side channel. I inspected each of these. A few were too long or too heavy to drag down to the river’s edge, 30 feet away. Another was too short; some were clearly not strong enough. I bent over and swept away the sand andweeds to get a better look at the others. Three looked workable; I placed them side by side, thensearched for one or two more. Finally I had five logs of roughly equal size. I was well hidden bythe rushes on the riverbank, so I figured I could build the raft right here. Now I looked around for something to tie them together. At first I could not think of howto do this. But wait! I remembered from the Robinson Crusoe book that he used vines for rope.And I had seen some vines on my way down the bank. I ran back, pulled out my knife, and slicedoff some of the thinner vines hanging from the trees. They were like ropes, I thought gratefully.Working quickly and quietly, I lashed the five logs together, using knots Balthus had shown tome. The sun was now setting over the hills behind me.For the first time since I had seen the Indians on the bluff, I felt a pang of hunger. Ilooked with some satisfaction on my handiwork while I ate a few crackers and some dried fruit. Iscanned the river; still I saw no one. Then a startling thought entered my mind: how am I to getthis raft into the river? I tried to lift it, but once it was all lashed together, it was too heavy by far.I tied a vine to one end, and using it as a lead, I tried to drag the raft across the sand. It was stilltoo heavy; I could not budge it.In desperation, I looked around for anything that might work. Finally I had an idea. Iwould use two or three of the discarded logs as rollers. With luck I would be able to roll the raftto the river’s edge.Quickly I gathered up three useable logs. With a lot of sweating and grunting I managedto lift one end of the raft and prop it up with a stout stick. Then I slid the logs under the raft andlowered it down. On my hands and knees now in the sand and with more sweating and withenough cursing to make the Parson blush, I managed to shove the raft a few feet down the sand,until one log rolled out from under it on the back side. I pulled the free log out and placed itunder the front of the raft and pushed some more. Slowly, and with a great deal of effort, I madeheadway across the 30 feet of sand, replacing the rollers on the front each time they rolled outthe back. By the time I got the raft to the water, the night was full upon me and a half moon was

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