FROM CREEK HARBOUR TO COLONIAL RECEPTION
Eppes Creek was the most remote and isolated of all our James River harbours. Gadabout was like a bit of civilization that had got broken off and had drifted away into the wild. The stream was such a mere ribbon with such tall trees along its banks, that we looked upward to but a narrow lane of open sky. Sometimes the lane was blue, sometimes gray, and sometimes dark and set with twinkling stars.
The wood across the creek from us was a dismal looking place. The trees were swamp cypresses that had lost their summer green, and stood drooping and forlorn in the low, marshy soil. Nautica wasted a good deal of sympathy upon them as she compared them with the richly clothed pines and the luxuriant holly upon our side of the stream.
There doubtless was game in that desolate wood; although about the only living things that we saw in it, even when we rowed close along its ragged shore, were owls. At night, strange, uncanny cries came out of the wood, and probably out of the owls also; but such sad and querulous cries as may well have been the plaints of the mournful marsh forest itself. Upon our Shirley shore too, there lived an owl, evidently of a different kind. We never saw him; but at night he worked untiringly upon a voluminous woodland edition of “Who’s Who.”
In this harbour, we heard often the stirring cry out of the high heavens that our ears had caught once in our anchorage at Westover. And now we saw the wild geese themselves.
Each time, at the first faint “honk,” we got quickly to the windows or out on deck, and stood waiting for the beautiful V-shaped flight to come swinging into our sky-lane. And with what a glorious sweep the birds came on! And to what gloriously discordant music!
Sometimes they went over in V’s that were quite regular; but often the diverging lines would grow wavy, the beautiful flying letter still holding but swinging in and out as though blown about on the face of the sky.
Perhaps we had something to do with those variants of the wild goose’s favourite letter. Quite likely the sight of Gadabout, fluttering her flags down there in Eppes Creek, made those wise old gander leaders veer in a way somewhat disconcerting to their faithful followers.
But on they came, and on they went in their wonderful flight through sunshine and through storm, by day and by night; leaving a strangely roused and quickened world behind them. Just a fleet passing of wings, a clamour of cries—why should one’s heart leap, and his nerves go restless, and joy and sadness get mixed up inside him? A few birds flying over—yet stirring as a military pageant! A jangle of senseless “honks”—yet in it the irresistible urge of bugle and drum!
One cannot explain. One can only stand and look and listen, till the living, flying letter is lost in the sky; till his ear can no longer catch the glorious, wild clangour of “the going of the geese.”