Ocean Echoes - Buttermilk, Bunkhouse And Bugaboo
( Originally Published 1922 )
"HAVE you any more news?" said I, after a while, for Jack was looking back persistently over his shoulder, and it seemed to me that danger lurked in the trees, and that the burly mate must by now be hot after us. Yet I enjoyed this independence that I had never known before freedom to roam regardless of God or Man. I wonder if such a taste of freedom from the laws of society is really good for a boy, or whether he is more unfit to face the world with such a background. Jack answered my question :
"Yes, I have more news," he said. "We follow a trail that leads to the right, and forty miles from here we come to a river. There we can take a boat and go up the Saguenay to Chicoutimi."
"But," I objected, "how are we going to take a passenger boat? We have no money."
"Leave that to me," he said. I've been in tighter places than this before, and got out of them."
What a wonderful philosopher Jack was always ! Optimistic, and never without a smile or an encouraging word, and yet ready for a fight at the drop of the hat. We filled ourselves full of bread and buttermilk, for we had no knowledge of when we should eat again. Then we stuffed what was left of the bread into our pockets, and started out, heading as directed through the Canadian woods, without guide or milepost or sidelight.
We walked until it grew dark. I didn't know if we were on the right trail, and Jack didn't care. We came to an old log bunkhouse, and crawled into pine-needle bunks. But not for long, thanks to my foolishness.
When we lay down to sleep Jack cautioned against mosquitoes. We wrapped our coats around our heads in the hope of keeping our faces and necks clear. Jack could adapt himself to anything, and in less than five minutes he was fast asleep. But I would have smothered with a coat around my head, and being sleepless, I stood, looking out of the window Presently I thought that I saw lights moving about in the forest.
"The mate ! the mate !" I cried, tugging at Jack in a frenzy of fear.
"Where?" he asked, sleepily, yet alert, and not at all disturbed.
"See the lights?" And truly by now there were a dozen of them, it seemed to me.
"Come on," said he. "This is not the place for us." He grabbed his coat and ran out of the bunkhouse door with me after him. We didn't know what direction we took, but we ran until we could run no farther.
"I guess they'll have a job overhauling us now," said Jack, panting.
"Yes," I agreed, "we've gone a long way, if we've only gone straight."
Many a laugh I've had over that chase. While we were sitting there, exhausted from the run, I saw the lights again.
"Heavens, there they are again, there they come !" said I, jumping up. Jack, being some-what infected with my state of mind, jumped also.
"Where in Hell do you see the lights?" "There, there !"
"Great God," roared Jack, "they aren't lights, they're fireflies !" I didn't know what fireflies were, but they carried their lights with them, and they looked like masthead lights to me.
We fought mosquitoes until daylight broke. Then, damp, cold, and hungry, we continued along the trail. There were many trails; which one led to the steamboat landing only God knew. We walked on. Noon came and went, and our trouble was now, not in the distance to the river, but in our stomachs. Hunger, the great disciplinarian, wished us back to the Blue-nose barque. Ah ! we mourned gingerbread and stewed apples; yes, and almost Rio and yellow fever. Only for the sake of filling our wrinkled floppy tummies.
Jack grew silent, and I, who had never known hunger, staggered on behind him. It was late in the afternoon when we came to an opening, and saw a house in the distance.
"Come on, we're all right now," said Jack. They gave us plenty to eat at that house, and showed us to the boat-landing. How kind some people are in the world ! The old French lady met us at the door. She could not understand our English but she could read our faces, and that was enough for that dear old soul. She welcomed us with the heart of a mother. Her house was our house, and Jack, who should have been calloused by his years of beach-combing, bowed his head and dropped big tears on the plate before him.
It was one o'clock in the morning when the boat made the landing. How we were to get aboard without paying a fare I did not know, and Jack would not say. He did suggest that I follow him.
"Haul in the gangplank !" the mate shouted.
I stood trembling behind a pile, afraid to be seen. The gangplank was in, the boat moving. Then, like a flash, Jack cried : "Take a run, and a jump, and board her."
The spirit of adventure fears no danger. We boarded the moving steamer, and hid away in the lee shadows of the smoke-stack. We were unseen, because the crew, when they took in the gangway, moved forward, and night hid us from the eyes on the bridge.
I had learned more in two days, than I had in all the eighteen years I had lived.