Frescoes from the Past
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APPARENTLY the river was ready for business, now. But no,
the distribution of a population along its banks was as calm
and deliberate and time-devouring a process as the discovery
and exploration had been.
Seventy years elapsed, after the exploration, before the
river's borders had a white population worth considering;
and nearly fifty more before the river had a commerce.
Between La Salle's opening of the river and the time when it
may be said to have become the vehicle of anything like a regular
and active commerce, seven sovereigns had occupied the throne
of England, America had become an independent nation, Louis XIV.
and Louis XV. had rotted and died, the French monarchy had gone
down in the red tempest of the revolution, and Napoleon was a name
that was beginning to be talked about. Truly, there were snails
in those days.
The river's earliest commerce was in great barges--keelboats, broadhorns.
They floated and sailed from the upper rivers to New Orleans,
changed cargoes there, and were tediously warped and poled back
by hand. A voyage down and back sometimes occupied nine months.
In time this commerce increased until it gave employment to hordes
of rough and hardy men; rude, uneducated, brave, suffering terrific
hardships with sailor-like stoicism; heavy drinkers, coarse frolickers
in moral sties like the Natchez-under-the-hill of that day,
heavy fighters, reckless fellows, every one, elephantinely jolly,
foul-witted, profane; prodigal of their money, bankrupt at the end
of the trip, fond of barbaric finery, prodigious braggarts;
yet, in the main, honest, trustworthy, faithful to promises and duty,
and often picturesquely magnanimous.
By and by the steamboat intruded. Then for fifteen or twenty years,
these men continued to run their keelboats down-stream, and the steamers
did all of the upstream business, the keelboatmen selling their boats
in New Orleans, and returning home as deck passengers in the steamers.
But after a while the steamboats so increased in number and
in speed that they were able to absorb the entire commerce;
and then keelboating died a permanent death. The keelboatman
became a deck hand, or a mate, or a pilot on the steamer;
and when steamer-berths were not open to him, he took a berth
on a Pittsburgh coal-flat, or on a pine-raft constructed
in the forests up toward the sources of the Mississippi.
In the heyday of the steamboating prosperity, the river from end
to end was flaked with coal-fleets and timber rafts, all managed
by hand, and employing hosts of the rough characters whom I
have been trying to describe. I remember the annual processions
of mighty rafts that used to glide by Hannibal when I was a boy,--
an acre or so of white, sweet-smelling boards in each raft,
a crew of two dozen men or more, three or four wigwams scattered
about the raft's vast level space for storm-quarters,--and I
remember the rude ways and the tremendous talk of their big crews,
the ex-keelboatmen and their admiringly patterning successors;
for we used to swim out a quarter or third of a mile and get on
these rafts and have a ride.
By way of illustrating keelboat talk and manners, and that
now-departed and hardly-remembered raft-life, I will throw in,
in this place, a chapter from a book which I have been working at,
by fits and starts, during the past five or six years,
and may possibly finish in the course of five or six more.
The book is a story which details some passages in the life
of an ignorant village boy, Huck Finn, son of the town
drunkard of my time out west, there. He has run away from
his persecuting father, and from a persecuting good widow who
wishes to make a nice, truth-telling, respectable boy of him;
and with him a slave of the widow's has also escaped.
They have found a fragment of a lumber raft (it is high
water and dead summer time), and are floating down the river
by night, and hiding in the willows by day,--bound for Cairo,--
whence the negro will seek freedom in the heart of the free States.
But in a fog, they pass Cairo without knowing it.
By and by they begin to suspect the truth, and Huck Finn is
persuaded to end the dismal suspense by swimming down to a huge
raft which they have seen in the distance ahead of them,
creeping aboard under cover of the darkness, and gathering
the needed information by eavesdropping:--
But you know a young person can't wait very well when he is
impatient to find a thing out. We talked it over, and by and by
Jim said it was such a black night, now, that it wouldn't be no
risk to swim down to the big raft and crawl aboard and listen--
they would talk about Cairo, because they would be calculating
to go ashore there for a spree, maybe, or anyway they would
send boats ashore to buy whiskey or fresh meat or something.
Jim had a wonderful level head, for a nigger: he could most always
start a good plan when you wanted one.
I stood up and shook my rags off and jumped into the river,
and struck out for the raft's light. By and by, when I got
down nearly to her, I eased up and went slow and cautious.
But everything was all right--nobody at the sweeps.
So I swum down along the raft till I was most abreast the camp
fire in the middle, then I crawled aboard and inched along and got
in amongst some bundles of shingles on the weather side of the fire.
There was thirteen men there--they was the watch on deck of course.
And a mighty rough-looking lot, too. They had a jug, and tin cups,
and they kept the jug moving. One man was singing--roaring, you may say;
and it wasn't a nice song--for a parlor anyway. He roared through
his nose, and strung out the last word of every line very long.
When he was done they all fetched a kind of Injun war-whoop, and then
another was sung. It begun:--
'There was a woman in our towdn,
In our towdn did dwed'l (dwell,)
She loved her husband dear-i-lee,
But another man twyste as wed'l.
Singing too, riloo, riloo, riloo,
Ri-too, riloo, rilay - - - e,
She loved her husband dear-i-lee,
But another man twyste as wed'l.
And so on--fourteen verses. It was kind of poor, and when he was
going to start on the next verse one of them said it was the tune
the old cow died on; and another one said, 'Oh, give us a rest.'
And another one told him to take a walk. They made fun of him
till he got mad and jumped up and begun to cuss the crowd,
and said he could lame any thief in the lot.
They was all about to make a break for him, but the biggest man
there jumped up and says--
'Set whar you are, gentlemen. Leave him to me; he's my meat.'
Then he jumped up in the air three times and cracked his heels
together every time. He flung off a buckskin coat that was all hung
with fringes, and says, 'You lay thar tell the chawin-up's done;'
and flung his hat down, which was all over ribbons, and says,
'You lay thar tell his sufferin's is over.'
Then he jumped up in the air and cracked his heels together again
and shouted out--
'Whoo-oop! I'm the old original iron-jawed, brass-mounted,
copper-bellied corpse-maker from the wilds of Arkansaw!--Look at me!
I'm the man they call Sudden Death and General Desolation!
Sired by a hurricane, dam'd by an earthquake, half-brother to
the cholera, nearly related to the small-pox on the mother's side!
Look at me! I take nineteen alligators and a bar'l of whiskey
for breakfast when I'm in robust health, and a bushel of rattlesnakes
and a dead body when I'm ailing! I split the everlasting
rocks with my glance, and I squench the thunder when I speak!
Whoo-oop! Stand back and give me room according to my strength!
Blood's my natural drink, and the wails of the dying is music to my ear!
Cast your eye on me, gentlemen!--and lay low and hold your breath,
for I'm bout to turn myself loose!'
All the time he was getting this off, he was shaking his head
and looking fierce, and kind of swelling around in a little circle,
tucking up his wrist-bands, and now and then straightening up and
beating his breast with his fist, saying, 'Look at me, gentlemen!'
When he got through, he jumped up and cracked his heels together
three times, and let off a roaring 'Whoo-oop! I'm the bloodiest son
of a wildcat that lives!'
Then the man that had started the row tilted his old slouch
hat down over his right eye; then he bent stooping forward,
with his back sagged and his south end sticking out far,
and his fists a-shoving out and drawing in in front of him,
and so went around in a little circle about three times,
swelling himself up and breathing hard. Then he straightened,
and jumped up and cracked his heels together three times,
before he lit again (that made them cheer), and he begun to
shout like this--
'Whoo-oop! bow your neck and spread, for the kingdom of sorrow's
a-coming! Hold me down to the earth, for I feel my powers
a-working! whoo-oop! I'm a child of sin, don't let me get a start!
Smoked glass, here, for all! Don't attempt to look at me
with the naked eye, gentlemen! When I'm playful I use
the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine,
and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales! I scratch my head
with the lightning, and purr myself to sleep with the thunder!
When I'm cold, I bile the Gulf of Mexico and bathe in it;
when I'm hot I fan myself with an equinoctial storm;
when I'm thirsty I reach up and suck a cloud dry like a sponge;
when I range the earth hungry, famine follows in my tracks!
Whoo-oop! Bow your neck and spread! I put my hand on the sun's
face and make it night in the earth; I bite a piece out of the moon
and hurry the seasons; I shake myself and crumble the mountains!
Contemplate me through leather--don't use the naked eye!
I'm the man with a petrified heart and biler-iron bowels!
The massacre of isolated communities is the pastime of my idle moments,
the destruction of nationalities the serious business of my life!
The boundless vastness of the great American desert is my
enclosed property, and I bury my dead on my own premises!'
He jumped up and cracked his heels together three times before he lit
(they cheered him again), and as he come down he shouted out:
'Whoo-oop! bow your neck and spread, for the pet child of
calamity's a-coming! '
Then the other one went to swelling around and blowing again--the first one--
the one they called Bob; next, the Child of Calamity chipped in again,
bigger than ever; then they both got at it at the same time, swelling round
and round each other and punching their fists most into each other's faces,
and whooping and jawing like Injuns; then Bob called the Child names,
and the Child called him names back again: next, Bob called him a heap
rougher names and the Child come back at him with the very worst kind
of language; next, Bob knocked the Child's hat off, and the Child picked it
up and kicked Bob's ribbony hat about six foot; Bob went and got it and said
never mind, this warn't going to be the last of this thing, because he was
a man that never forgot and never forgive, and so the Child better look out,
for there was a time a-coming, just as sure as he was a living man,
that he would have to answer to him with the best blood in his body.
The Child said no man was willinger than he was for that time to come,
and he would give Bob fair warning, now, never to cross his path again,
for he could never rest till he had waded in his blood, for such was
his nature, though he was sparing him now on account of his family,
if he had one.
Both of them was edging away in different directions, growling and
shaking their heads and going on about what they was going to do;
but a little black-whiskered chap skipped up and says--
'Come back here, you couple of chicken-livered cowards,
and I'll thrash the two of ye!'
And he done it, too. He snatched them, he jerked them this way and that,
he booted them around, he knocked them sprawling faster than they could
get up. Why, it warn't two minutes till they begged like dogs--and how
the other lot did yell and laugh and clap their hands all the way through,
and shout 'Sail in, Corpse-Maker!' 'Hi! at him again, Child of Calamity!'
'Bully for you, little Davy!' Well, it was a perfect pow-wow for a while.
Bob and the Child had red noses and black eyes when they got through.
Little Davy made them own up that they were sneaks and cowards and not fit
to eat with a dog or drink with a nigger; then Bob and the Child shook
hands with each other, very solemn, and said they had always respected
each other and was willing to let bygones be bygones. So then they washed
their faces in the river; and just then there was a loud order to stand
by for a crossing, and some of them went forward to man the sweeps there,
and the rest went aft to handle the after-sweeps.
I laid still and waited for fifteen minutes, and had a smoke out of a pipe
that one of them left in reach; then the crossing was finished, and they
stumped back and had a drink around and went to talking and singing again.
Next they got out an old fiddle, and one played and another patted juba,
and the rest turned themselves loose on a regular old-fashioned keel-boat
break-down. They couldn't keep that up very long without getting winded,
so by and by they settled around the jug again.
They sung 'jolly, jolly raftman's the life for me,' with a
musing chorus, and then they got to talking about differences
betwixt hogs, and their different kind of habits; and next about
women and their different ways: and next about the best ways
to put out houses that was afire; and next about what ought
to be done with the Injuns; and next about what a king had to do,
and how much he got; and next about how to make cats fight;
and next about what to do when a man has fits; and next about
differences betwixt clear-water rivers and muddy-water ones.
The man they called Ed said the muddy Mississippi water
was wholesomer to drink than the clear water of the Ohio;
he said if you let a pint of this yaller Mississippi water settle,
you would have about a half to three-quarters of an inch
of mud in the bottom, according to the stage of the river,
and then it warn't no better than Ohio water--what you wanted
to do was to keep it stirred up--and when the river was low,
keep mud on hand to put in and thicken the water up the way it
ought to be.
The Child of Calamity said that was so; he said there was nutritiousness
in the mud, and a man that drunk Mississippi water could grow corn in his
stomach if he wanted to. He says--
'You look at the graveyards; that tells the tale. Trees won't
grow worth chucks in a Cincinnati graveyard, but in a Sent
Louis graveyard they grow upwards of eight hundred foot high.
It's all on account of the water the people drunk before they laid up.
A Cincinnati corpse don't richen a soil any.'
And they talked about how Ohio water didn't like to mix with
Mississippi water. Ed said if you take the Mississippi on a rise
when the Ohio is low, you'll find a wide band of clear water all the way
down the east side of the Mississippi for a hundred mile or more,
and the minute you get out a quarter of a mile from shore and pass
the line, it is all thick and yaller the rest of the way across.
Then they talked about how to keep tobacco from getting moldy,
and from that they went into ghosts and told about a lot that other
folks had seen; but Ed says--
'Why don't you tell something that you've seen yourselves?
Now let me have a say. Five years ago I was on a raft as big
as this, and right along here it was a bright moonshiny night,
and I was on watch and boss of the stabboard oar forrard, and one
of my pards was a man named Dick Allbright, and he come along
to where I was sitting, forrard--gaping and stretching, he was--
and stooped down on the edge of the raft and washed his face
in the river, and come and set down by me and got out his pipe,
and had just got it filled, when he looks up and says--
' "Why looky-here," he says, "ain't that Buck Miller's place,
over yander in the bend."
' "Yes," says I, "it is--why." He laid his pipe down and leant
his head on his hand, and says--
' "I thought we'd be furder down." I says--
' "I thought it too, when I went off watch"--we was standing
six hours on and six off--"but the boys told me," I says,
"that the raft didn't seem to hardly move, for the last hour,"
says I, "though she's a slipping along all right, now," says I. He
give a kind of a groan, and says--
' "I've seed a raft act so before, along here," he says, " 'pears
to me the current has most quit above the head of this bend durin'
the last two years," he says.
'Well, he raised up two or three times, and looked away off
and around on the water. That started me at it, too. A body is
always doing what he sees somebody else doing, though there mayn't
be no sense in it. Pretty soon I see a black something floating
on the water away off to stabboard and quartering behind us.
I see he was looking at it, too. I says--
' "What's that?' He says, sort of pettish,--
' "Tain't nothing but an old empty bar'l.
' "An empty bar'l!" says I, "why," says I, "a spy-glass is a fool
to your eyes. How can you tell it's an empty bar'l?" He says--
' "I don't know; I reckon it ain't a bar'l, but I thought it
might be," says he.
' "Yes," I says, "so it might be, and it might be anything else, too; a body
can't tell nothing about it, such a distance as that," I says.
'We hadn't nothing else to do, so we kept on watching it.
By and by I says--
' "Why looky-here, Dick Allbright, that thing's a-gaining on us,
'He never said nothing. The thing gained and gained,
and I judged it must be a dog that was about tired out.
Well, we swung down into the crossing, and the thing floated
across the bright streak of the moonshine, and, by George,
it was bar'l. Says I--
' "Dick Allbright, what made you think that thing was a bar'l,
when it was a half a mile off," says I. Says he--
' "I don't know." Says I--
' "You tell me, Dick Allbright." He says--
' "Well, I knowed it was a bar'l; I've seen it before; lots has seen it;
they says it's a haunted bar'l."
'I called the rest of the watch, and they come and stood there,
and I told them what Dick said. It floated right along abreast,
now, and didn't gain any more. It was about twenty foot off.
Some was for having it aboard, but the rest didn't want to.
Dick Allbright said rafts that had fooled with it had got bad luck
by it. The captain of the watch said he didn't believe in it.
He said he reckoned the bar'l gained on us because it was in a little
better current than what we was. He said it would leave by and by.
'So then we went to talking about other things, and we had a song,
and then a breakdown; and after that the captain of the watch called
for another song; but it was clouding up, now, and the bar'l stuck right
thar in the same place, and the song didn't seem to have much warm-up
to it, somehow, and so they didn't finish it, and there warn't any cheers,
but it sort of dropped flat, and nobody said anything for a minute.
Then everybody tried to talk at once, and one chap got off a joke,
but it warn't no use, they didn't laugh, and even the chap
that made the joke didn't laugh at it, which ain't usual.
We all just settled down glum, and watched the bar'l, and was oneasy
and oncomfortable. Well, sir, it shut down black and still,
and then the wind begin to moan around, and next the lightning begin
to play and the thunder to grumble. And pretty soon there was
a regular storm, and in the middle of it a man that was running aft
stumbled and fell and sprained his ankle so that he had to lay up.
This made the boys shake their heads. And every time the lightning come,
there was that bar'l with the blue lights winking around it.
We was always on the look-out for it. But by and by, towards dawn,
she was gone. When the day come we couldn't see her anywhere, and we
warn't sorry, neither.
'But next night about half-past nine, when there was songs and high
jinks going on, here she comes again, and took her old roost on the
stabboard side. There warn't no more high jinks. Everybody got solemn;
nobody talked; you couldn't get anybody to do anything but set
around moody and look at the bar'l. It begun to cloud up again.
When the watch changed, the off watch stayed up, 'stead of turning in.
The storm ripped and roared around all night, and in the middle of it
another man tripped and sprained his ankle, and had to knock off.
The bar'l left towards day, and nobody see it go.
'Everybody was sober and down in the mouth all day. I don't mean
the kind of sober that comes of leaving liquor alone--not that.
They was quiet, but they all drunk more than usual--not together--
but each man sidled off and took it private, by himself.
'After dark the off watch didn't turn in; nobody sung,
nobody talked; the boys didn't scatter around, neither; they sort
of huddled together, forrard; and for two hours they set there,
perfectly still, looking steady in the one direction, and heaving
a sigh once in a while. And then, here comes the bar'l again.
She took up her old place. She staid there all night;
nobody turned in. The storm come on again, after midnight.
It got awful dark; the rain poured down; hail, too; the thunder
boomed and roared and bellowed; the wind blowed a hurricane;
and the lightning spread over everything in big sheets of glare,
and showed the whole raft as plain as day; and the river
lashed up white as milk as far as you could see for miles,
and there was that bar'l jiggering along, same as ever.
The captain ordered the watch to man the after sweeps for a crossing,
and nobody would go--no more sprained ankles for them, they said.
They wouldn't even walk aft. Well then, just then the sky split
wide open, with a crash, and the lightning killed two men of the
after watch, and crippled two more. Crippled them how, says you?
Why, sprained their ankles
'The bar'l left in the dark betwixt lightnings, towards dawn.
Well, not a body eat a bite at breakfast that morning.
After that the men loafed around, in twos and threes, and talked
low together. But none of them herded with Dick Allbright.
They all give him the cold shake. If he come around
where any of the men was, they split up and sidled away.
They wouldn't man the sweeps with him. The captain had all
the skiffs hauled up on the raft, alongside of his wigwam,
and wouldn't let the dead men be took ashore to be planted;
he didn't believe a man that got ashore would come back;
and he was right.
'After night come, you could see pretty plain that there was going to be
trouble if that bar'l come again; there was such a muttering going on.
A good many wanted to kill Dick Allbright, because he'd seen the bar'l
on other trips, and that had an ugly look. Some wanted to put him ashore.
Some said, let's all go ashore in a pile, if the bar'l comes again.
'This kind of whispers was still going on, the men being bunched
together forrard watching for the bar'l, when, lo and behold you,
here she comes again. Down she comes, slow and steady,
and settles into her old tracks. You could a heard a pin drop.
Then up comes the captain, and says:--
' "Boys, don't be a pack of children and fools; I don't
want this bar'l to be dogging us all the way to Orleans,
and YOU don't; well, then, how's the best way to stop it?
Burn it up,--that's the way. I'm going to fetch it aboard," he says.
And before anybody could say a word, in he went.
'He swum to it, and as he come pushing it to the raft, the men spread
to one side. But the old man got it aboard and busted in the head,
and there was a baby in it! Yes, sir, a stark naked baby.
It was Dick Allbright's baby; he owned up and said so.
' "Yes," he says, a-leaning over it, "yes, it is my own
lamented darling, my poor lost Charles William Allbright deceased,"
says he,--for he could curl his tongue around the bulliest
words in the language when he was a mind to, and lay them
before you without a jint started, anywheres. Yes, he said
he used to live up at the head of this bend, and one night
he choked his child, which was crying, not intending to
kill it,--which was prob'ly a lie,--and then he was scared,
and buried it in a bar'l, before his wife got home, and off
he went, and struck the northern trail and went to rafting;
and this was the third year that the bar'l had chased him.
He said the bad luck always begun light, and lasted till four men
was killed, and then the bar'l didn't come any more after that.
He said if the men would stand it one more night,--
and was a-going on like that,--but the men had got enough.
They started to get out a boat to take him ashore and lynch him,
but he grabbed the little child all of a sudden and jumped
overboard with it hugged up to his breast and shedding tears,
and we never see him again in this life, poor old suffering soul,
nor Charles William neither.'
'WHO was shedding tears?' says Bob; 'was it Allbright or the baby?'
'Why, Allbright, of course; didn't I tell you the baby was dead.
Been dead three years--how could it cry?'
'Well, never mind how it could cry--how could it KEEP all that time?'
says Davy. 'You answer me that.'
'I don't know how it done it,' says Ed. 'It done it though--
that's all I know about it.'
'Say--what did they do with the bar'l?' says the Child of Calamity.
'Why, they hove it overboard, and it sunk like a chunk of lead.'
'Edward, did the child look like it was choked?' says one.
'Did it have its hair parted?' says another.
'What was the brand on that bar'l, Eddy?' says a fellow they called Bill.
'Have you got the papers for them statistics, Edmund?' says Jimmy.
'Say, Edwin, was you one of the men that was killed by the lightning.'
'Him? O, no, he was both of 'em,' says Bob. Then they all haw-hawed.
'Say, Edward, don't you reckon you'd better take a pill?
You look bad--don't you feel pale?' says the Child of Calamity.
'O, come, now, Eddy,' says Jimmy, 'show up; you must a kept part of that bar'l
to prove the thing by. Show us the bunghole--do--and we'll all believe you.'
'Say, boys,' says Bill, 'less divide it up. Thar's thirteen of us.
I can swaller a thirteenth of the yarn, if you can worry down the rest.'
Ed got up mad and said they could all go to some place which he ripped
out pretty savage, and then walked off aft cussing to himself,
and they yelling and jeering at him, and roaring and laughing so you
could hear them a mile.
'Boys, we'll split a watermelon on that,' says the Child of Calamity;
and he come rummaging around in the dark amongst the shingle bundles
where I was, and put his hand on me. I was warm and soft and naked;
so he says 'Ouch!' and jumped back.
'Fetch a lantern or a chunk of fire here, boys--there's a snake
here as big as a cow!'
So they run there with a lantern and crowded up and looked in on me.
'Come out of that, you beggar!' says one.
'Who are you?' says another.
'What are you after here? Speak up prompt, or overboard you go.
'Snake him out, boys. Snatch him out by the heels.'
I began to beg, and crept out amongst them trembling.
They looked me over, wondering, and the Child of Calamity says--
'A cussed thief! Lend a hand and less heave him overboard!'
'No,' says Big Bob, 'less get out the paint-pot and paint him a sky
blue all over from head to heel, and then heave him over! '
'Good, that 's it. Go for the paint, Jimmy.'
When the paint come, and Bob took the brush and was just going to begin,
the others laughing and rubbing their hands, I begun to cry, and that sort
of worked on Davy, and he says--
' 'Vast there! He 's nothing but a cub. 'I'll paint the man
that tetches him!'
So I looked around on them, and some of them grumbled and growled,
and Bob put down the paint, and the others didn't take it up.
'Come here to the fire, and less see what you're up to here,'
says Davy. 'Now set down there and give an account of yourself.
How long have you been aboard here?'
'Not over a quarter of a minute, sir,' says I.
'How did you get dry so quick?'
'I don't know, sir. I'm always that way, mostly.'
'Oh, you are, are you. What's your name?'
I warn't going to tell my name. I didn't know what to say,
so I just says--
'Charles William Allbright, sir.'
Then they roared--the whole crowd; and I was mighty glad I said that,
because maybe laughing would get them in a better humor.
When they got done laughing, Davy says--
'It won't hardly do, Charles William. You couldn't have growed this
much in five year, and you was a baby when you come out of the bar'l,
you know, and dead at that. Come, now, tell a straight story,
and nobody'll hurt you, if you ain't up to anything wrong.
What is your name.?'
'Aleck Hopkins, sir. Aleck James Hopkins.'
'Well, Aleck, where did you come from, here.?'
'From a trading scow. She lays up the bend yonder.
I was born on her. Pap has traded up and down here all his life;
and he told me to swim off here, because when you went by he said
he would like to get some of you to speak to a Mr. Jonas Turner,
in Cairo, and tell him--'
'Yes, sir; it's as true as the world; Pap he says--'
'Oh, your grandmother!'
They all laughed, and I tried again to talk, hut they broke in on me
and stopped me.
'Now, looky-here,' says Davy; 'you're scared, and so you talk wild.
Honest, now, do you live in a scow, or is it a lie?'
'Yes, sir, in a trading scow. She lays up at the head of the bend.
But I warn't born in her. It's our first trip.'
'Now you're talking! What did you come aboard here, for? To steal?'
'No, sir, I didn't.--It was only to get a ride on the raft.
All boys does that.'
'Well, I know that. But what did you hide for?'
'Sometimes they drive the boys off.'
'So they do. They might steal. Looky-here; if we let you off this time,
will you keep out of these kind of scrapes hereafter?'
''Deed I will, boss. You try me.'
'All right, then. You ain't but little ways from shore.
Overboard with you, and don't you make a fool of yourself
another time this way.--Blast it, boy, some raftsmen would
rawhide you till you were black and blue!'
I didn't wait to kiss good-bye, but went overboard and broke for shore.
When Jim come along by and by, the big raft was away out of sight around
the point. I swum out and got aboard, and was mighty glad to see home again.
The boy did not get the information he was after, but his adventure
has furnished the glimpse of the departed raftsman and keelboatman
which I desire to offer in this place.
I now come to a phase of the Mississippi River life of the flush
times of steamboating, which seems to me to warrant full examination--
the marvelous science of piloting, as displayed there.
I believe there has been nothing like it elsewhere in the world.