The Chemung, on whose east bank we were now walking, seemed a noble enough river, very broad and all the more picturesque for being shallow with the Summer drought; and its shining reaches and wooded banks lifted up our hearts. She, like ourselves, was on her way to join the Susquehanna, a mile or two below, and we said to ourselves, that, beautiful as the land had been through which we had already passed, we were now entering on a Nature of more heroic mould, mightier contours, and larger aspects. We were henceforth to walk in the company of great rivers: the Susquehanna, like some epic goddess, was to lead us to the Lehigh; the Blue Mountains were to bring us to the Delaware; and the uplands of Sullivan County were to bring us to—the lordly gates of the Hudson.
Our chests expanded as imagination luxuriated in the pictures it made. Our walk was only just beginning.
AND UNEXPECTEDLY THE LAST
We had seen the two great rivers sweep into each other’s arms in a broad glory of sunlit water, meeting at the bosky end of a wooded promontory, and yes! there was the Susquehanna glittering far beneath—the beautiful name I had so often seen and wondered about, painted on the sides of giant freight-cars! Yes, there was actually the great legendary river. It was a very warm, almost sultry noonday, more like midsummer than mid-October, and the river was almost blinding in its flashing beauty. Loosening our knapsacks, we called a halt and, leaning over the railing guarding the precipitous bank, luxuriated in the visionary scene. So high was the bank, and so broad the river, that we seemed lifted up into space, and the river, dreamily flowing beneath a gauze veil of heat-mist, seemed miles below us and drowsily unreal. Its course inshore was dotted with boulders, in the shadows of which we could see long ghostly fishes lazily gliding, and a mud-turtle, with a trail of little ones, slowly moving from rock to rock.
Suddenly Colin put his hand to his head, and swayed toward me, as though he were about to faint.
“I don’t know what’s the matter, old man,” he said, “but I think I had better sit down a minute.” And he sank by the roadside.
Unlike himself, he had been complaining of fatigue, and had seemed out of sorts for a day or two, but we had thought nothing of it; and, after resting a few minutes, he announced himself ready for the road again, but he looked very pale and walked with evident weariness. As a roadside cottage came in sight, “I wonder if they could give us a cup of tea,” he said; “that would fix me up, I’m sure.” So we knocked, and the door was opened by a pathetic shadow of an old woman, very poor and thin and weary-looking, who, although, as we presently learned, she was at the moment suffering from the recent loss of one eye, made us welcome and busied herself about tea, with an unselfish kindness that touched our hearts, and made us reflect on the angelic goodness of human nature—sometimes.