It was about dark now; so I dropped the canoe down the river under some
willows that hung over the bank, and waited for the moon to rise. I made
fast to a willow; then I took a bite to eat, and by and by laid down in the
canoe to smoke a pipe and lay out a plan. I says to myself, they’ll follow
the track of that sackful of rocks to the shore and then drag the river for
me. And they’ll follow that meal track to the lake and go browsing down the
creek that leads out of it to find the robbers that killed me and took the
things. They won’t ever hunt the river for anything but my dead carcass.
They’ll soon get tired of that, and won’t bother no more about me. All
right; I can stop anywhere I want to. Jackson’s Island is good enough for
me; I know that island pretty well, and nobody ever comes there. And then I
can paddle over to town nights, and slink around and pick up things I want.
Jackson’s Island’s the place.
It was almost dark now, so I hid the canoe downriver under some willows
that hung over the riverbank and waited for the moon to rise. I huddled up
against a willow and a bit of food. Pretty soon, I lied down in the canoe to
smoke my pipe and finish making my plans. They’ll follow the track made from
the sack of rocks to the shore and then dredge the river looking for me, I
said to myself. And they’ll follow that trail of cornmeal to the lake and go
looking up the creek for the robbers that killed me and stole all the stuff.
They won’t bother looking in the river except to find my dead body. They’ll
get tired of that pretty quickly, and will then stop looking for me. This is
great—I can now go anywhere I want. Jackson’s Island will suit me just fine;
I know that island pretty well, and nobody ever goes there. If I lived
there, then I could paddle back to town in the canoe at night and prowl
around and take things that I find. Yep, Jackson Island is the place.
I was pretty tired, and the first thing I knowed I was asleep. When I woke
up I didn’t know where I was for a minute. I set up and looked around, a
little scared. Then I remembered. The river looked miles and miles across.
The moon was so bright I could a counted the drift logs that went a-slipping
along, black and still, hundreds of yards out from shore. Everything was
dead quiet, and it looked late, and SMELT late. You know what I mean—I don’t
know the words to put it in.
I was pretty tired, and before I knew it, I’d fallen asleep. When I woke
up, I didn’t know where I was for about a minute. I sat up and looked
around, feeling a little bit scared. Then I remembered. The river looked
like it was miles and miles wide. The moon was shining so brightly that I
could have counted the logs that went drifting by, all black and still and
hundreds of yards away from the shore. It was late—everything was dead quiet
and it looked and even SMELLED like it was late. I don’t know quite how to
put it, but you know what I mean.
I took a good gap and a stretch, and was just going to unhitch and start
when I heard a sound away over the water. I listened. Pretty soon I made it
out. It was that dull kind of a regular sound that comes from oars working
in rowlocks when it’s a still night. I peeped out through the willow
branches, and there it was—a skiff, away across the water. I couldn’t tell
how many was in it. It kept a-coming, and when it was abreast of me I see
there warn’t but one man in it. Think’s I, maybe it’s pap, though I warn’t
expecting him. He dropped below me with the current, and by and by he came
a-swinging up shore in the easy water, and he went by so close I could a
reached out the gun and touched him. Well, it WAS pap, sure enough—and
sober, too, by the way he laid his oars.
I yawned a big yawn and stretched. I was just going to unhitch the canoe
and head out when suddenly I heard a sound out on the water. I listened, and
pretty soon I heard it again. It was that dull kind of sound that oars make
in the still of the night when they work against the rowlocks of a rowboat.
I peered out through the willow branches, and saw a skiff out on the water,
though, I couldn’t tell how many people where in it. It kept coming toward
me, and when it had pulled up near the canoe I could see that there was only
one man in it. Maybe it’s pap, I thought to myself, though I wasn’t
expecting him. The man in the boat floated past me with the current and soon
started rowing toward the shore when he was in calmer water. He went so
close past me that I could have reached out with the gun and touched him.
Turns out it WAS pap—and I could tell that he was sober by the way he laid
his oars in the boat.
I didn’t lose no time. The next minute I was a-spinning down stream soft
but quick in the shade of the bank. I made two mile and a half, and then
struck out a quarter of a mile or more towards the middle of the river,
because pretty soon I would be passing the ferry landing, and people might
see me and hail me. I got out amongst the driftwood, and then laid down in
the bottom of the canoe and let her float. I laid there, and had a good rest
and a smoke out of my pipe, looking away into the sky; not a cloud in it.
The sky looks ever so deep when you lay down on your back in the moonshine;
I never knowed it before. And how far a body can hear on the water such
nights! I heard people talking at the ferry landing. I heard what they said,
too—every word of it. One man said it was getting towards the long days and
the short nights now. T’other one said THIS warn’t one of the short ones, he
reckoned—and then they laughed, and he said it over again, and they laughed
again; then they waked up another fellow and told him, and laughed, but he
didn’t laugh; he ripped out something brisk, and said let him alone. The
first fellow said he ’lowed to tell it to his old woman—she would think it
was pretty good; but he said that warn’t nothing to some things he had said
in his time. I heard one man say it was nearly three o’clock, and he hoped
daylight wouldn’t wait more than about a week longer. After that the talk
got further and further away, and I couldn’t make out the words any more;
but I could hear the mumble, and now and then a laugh, too, but it seemed a
long ways off.
I didn’t lose any time—the next minute I was paddling down stream in the
shade of the riverbank quietly but quickly. I went about two-and-a-half
miles, then paddled about a quarter of a mile or so toward the middle of the
river, to avoid the people at the nearby ferry landing that might see me and
call out. I mixed in with the driftwood, lay down in the bottom of the
canoe, and floated downstream. I laid there looking up at the cloudless sky,
relaxing and smoking my pipe. I never knew how deep the sky looks in the
moonlight when you lay down on your back. And I was surprised by how much I
could hear out there on the water at night! I heard people talking at the
ferry landing. I could hear every word they were saying! One man said it was
getting to be that time of year when the days are long and the nights are
short. Another one said that he reckoned tonight wasn’t one of the shorter
ones. Then they laughed and said the same thing over again and laughed
again. Then they woke up another guy and said it to him and laughed, but he
didn’t laugh back. He snapped at them and told them to leave him alone. The
first guy said he’d tell it to his old lady because she’d think it was
funny, even though it wasn’t nearly as funny as some of the other things
he’d told her. I heard one man say it was nearly three o’clock in the
morning and that he hoped it’d be light soon. After that I drifted farther
and farther away and couldn’t make out any more of the words. I could still
hear the murmer of voices and the laughter every now and then, but it seemed
a long way off.