Albert noticed with alarm that the water under the horse’s feet increased in depth continually. A minute ago it was just above the fetlocks; now it was nearly to the knees, and the horse was obliged to lift his feet still more slowly. The rain had filled the lowland with water. Still the grass grew on either side of the road, and Charlton did not feel much alarm until, coming almost under the very shadow of the bluff, the grass suddenly ceased abruptly, and all was water, with what appeared to be an inaccessible cliff beyond. The road which lost itself in this pool or pond, must come out somewhere on the other side. But where? To the right or left? And how bottomless might not the morass be if he should miss the road!
But in such a strait one must do something. So he selected a certain point to the left, where the hill on the other side looked less broken, and, turning the horse’s head in that direction, struck him smartly with the whip. The horse advanced a step or two, the water rose quickly to his body, and he refused to go any farther. Neither coaxing nor whipping could move him. There was nothing to do now but to wait for the next flash of lightning. It was long to wait, for with the continuance of the storm the lightning had grown less and less frequent. Charlton thought it the longest five minutes that he ever knew. At last there came a blaze, very bright and blinding, leaving a very fearful darkness after it. But short and sudden as it was, it served to show Charlton that the sheet of water before him was not a pool or a pond, but a brook or a creek over all its banks, swollen to a river, and sweeping on, a wild torrent. At the side on which Charlion was, the water was comparatively still; the stream curved in such a way as to make the current dash itself against the rocky bluff.
Albert drove up the stream, and in a fit of desperation again essayed to ford it. The staying in the rain all night with Katy was so terrible to him that he determined to cross at all hazards. It were better to drown together than to perish here. But again the prudent stubbornness of the old horse saved them. He stood in the water as immovable as the ass of Balaam. Then, for the sheer sake of doing something, Charlton drove down the stream to a point opposite where the bluff seemed of easy ascent. Here he again attempted to cross, and was again balked by the horse’s regard for his own safety. Charlton did not appreciate the depth and swiftness of the stream, nor the consequent certainty of drowning in any attempt to ford it. Not until he got out of the buggy and tried to cross afoot did he understand how impossible it was.
When Albert returned to the vehicle he sat still. The current rippled against the body of the horse and the wheels of the buggy. The incessant rain roared in the water before him. There was nothing to be done. In the sheer exhaustion of his resources, in his numb despondency, he neglected even to drive the horse out of the water. How long he sat there it would be hard to say. Several times he roused himself to utter a “Halloo!” But the roar of the rain swallowed up his voice, which was husky with emotion.