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the race, the shock. They came  the last stopping the boat throwing it
aloft letting it drop and crests of angry waves curled over the side.
Shefford, kneeling, felt the water slap around him, and in his ears was a
deafening roar. There were endless moments of strife and hell and flying
darkness of spray all about him, and under him the rocking boat. When they
lessened ceased in violence he stood ankle-deep in water, and then madly he
began to bail.
Another roar deadened his ears, but he did not look up from his toil. And
when he had to get down to avoid the pitch he closed his eyes. That rapid
passed and with more water to bail, he resumed his share in the manning of the
crude craft. It was more than a share a tremendous responsibility to which he
bent with all his might. He heard Joe yell and again and again. He heard the
increasing roars one after another till they seemed one continuous bellow. He
felt the shock, the pitch, the beating waves, and then the lessening power of
sound and current. That set him to his task. Always in these long intervals of
toil he seemed to see, without looking up, the growing proportions of the
canyon. And the river had become a living, terrible thing. The intervals of
his tireless effort when he scooped the water overboard were fleeting, and the
rides through rapid after rapid were endless periods of waiting terror. His
spirit and his hope were overwhelmed by the rush and roar and fury.
Then, as he worked, there came a change a rest to deafened ears a stretch of
river that seemed quiet after chaos and here for the first time he bailed the
boat clear of water.
Jane and Fay were huddled in a corner, with the flapping tarpaulin now half
fallen over them. They were wet and muddy. Lassiter crouched like a man dazed
by a bad dream, and his white hair hung, stained and bedraggled, over his
face. The Indian and the Mormon, grim, hard, worn, stood silent at the oar.
The afternoon was far advanced and the sun had already descended below the
western ramparts. A cool breeze blew up the canyon, laden with a sound that
was the same, yet not the same, as those low, dull roars which Shefford
dreaded more and more.
Joe Lake turned his ear to the breeze. A stronger puff brought a heavy,
quivering rumble. This time he did not vent his gay and wild defiance to the
river. He bent lower listened. Then as the rumble became a strange, deep,
reverberating roll, as if the monstrous river were rolling huge stones down a
subterranean canyon, Shefford saw with dilating eyes that the Mormon's hair
was rising stiff upon his head.
"Hear that!" said Joe, turning an ashen face to Shefford. "We'll drop off the
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earth now. Hang on to the girl, so if we go you can go together. . . . And,
pard, if you've a God pray!"
Nas Ta Bega faced the bend from whence that rumble came, and he was the same
dark, inscrutable, impassive Indian as of old. What was death to him?
Shefford felt the strong, rushing love of life surge in him, and it was not
for himself he thought, but for Fay and the happiness she merited. He went to
her, patted the covered head, and tried with words choking in his throat to
give hope. And he leaned with hands gripping the gunwale, with eyes wide open,
ready for the unknown.
The river made a quick turn and from round the bend rumbled a terrible
uproar. The current racing that way was divided or uncertain, and it gave
strange motion to the boat. Joe and Nas Ta Bega shoved desperately upon the
oar, all to no purpose. The currents had their will. The bow of the boat took
the place of the stern. Then swift at the head of a curved incline it shot
beyond the bulging wall.
And Shefford saw an awful place before them. The canyon had narrowed to half
its width, and turned almost at right angles. The huge clamor of appalling
sound came from under the cliff where the swollen river had to pass and where
there was not space. The rapid rushed in gigantic swells right upon the wall,
boomed against it, climbed and spread and fell away, to recede and gather new
impetus, to leap madly on down the canyon.
Shefford went to his knees, clasped Fay, and Jane, too. But facing this
appalling thing he had to look. Courage and despair came to him at the last.
This must be the end. With long, buoyant swing the boat sailed down, shot over
the first waves, was caught and lifted upon the great swell and impelled
straight toward the cliff. Huge whirlpools raced alongside, and from them came
a horrible, engulfing roar. Monstrous bulges rose on the other side. All the
stupendous power of that mighty river of downward-rushing silt swung the boat
aloft, up and up, as the swell climbed the wall. Shefford, with transfixed
eyes and harrowed soul, watched the wet black wall. It loomed down upon him.
The stern of the boat went high. Then when the crash that meant doom seemed
imminent the swell spread and fell back from the wall and the boat never
struck at all. By some miraculous chance it had been favored by a strange and
momentary receding of the huge spent swell. Then it slid back, was caught and
whirled by the current into a red, frothy, up-flung rapids below. Shefford
bowed his head over. Fay and saw no more, nor felt nor heard. What seemed a
long time after that the broken voice of the Mormon recalled him to his
labors.
The boat was half full of water. Nas Ta Bega scooped out great sheets of it
with his hands. Shefford sprang to aid him, found the shovel, and plunged into
the task. Slowly but surely they emptied the boat. And then Shefford saw that
twilight had fallen. Joe was working the craft toward a narrow bank of sand,
to which, presently, they came, and the Indian sprang out to moor to a rock.
The fugitives went ashore and, weary and silent and drenched, they dropped in
the warm sand.
But Shefford could not sleep. The river kept him awake. In the distance it
rumbled, low, deep, reverberating, and near at hand it was a thing of mutable [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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