He was not to exceed two yards away from me, but came shuffling uncertainly forward, feeling gingerly for footing in the blackness along the rock-strewn bank. His outstretched hand touched me, startling us both, before we were aware of our close proximity.
“Hell, but I’m as blind as a bat,” he laughed. “Is this the crick? How wide is it?”
“I just waded across; about five yards and not more than two feet deep.”
“Maybe it’s blocked up above.”
“Of course, it might be, but it seems like a chance worth taking. We are sure to be caught if we hang to this trail.”
“I reckon thet’s so. Ye let me go ahead with the nigger gurl, an’ then follow after us, leadin’ Miss Beaucaire’s boss. By jeminy crickets, ’tain’t deep ‘nough fer ter drown us enyway, an’ I ain’t much afeerd o’ the dark. Thar’s likely ter be sum place whar we kin get out up thar. Whar the hell are them hosses?”
We succeeded in locating the animals by feeling and I waited on the edge of the bank, the two reins wrapped about my arm, until I heard the others go splashing down into the water. Then I also groped my own way cautiously forward, the two horses trailing behind me, down the sharply shelving bank into the stream. Tim chose his course near to the opposite shore, and I followed his lead closely, guided largely by the splashing of Elsie’s animal through the shallow water. Our movement was a very slow and cautious one, Kennedy halting frequently to assure himself that the passage ahead was safe. Fortunately the bottom was firm and the current not particularly strong, our greatest obstacle being the low-hanging branches which swept against us. Much of my time was expended in holding these back from contact with Eloise’s face, our horses sedately plodding along behind their leaders.
I think we must have waded thus to exceed a mile when we came to a fork in the stream and plumped into a tangle of uprooted trees, which ended our further progress. Between the two branches, after a little search, we discovered a gravelly beach, on which the horses’ hoofs would leave few permanent marks. Beyond this gravel we plunged into an open wood through whose intricacies we were compelled to grope blindly, Tim and I both afoot, and constantly calling to each other, so as not to become separated. I had lost all sense of direction, when this forest finally ended, and we again emerged upon open prairie, with a myriad of stars shining overhead.
THE ISLAND IN THE SWAMP
The relief of thus being able to perceive each other and gain some view of our immediate surroundings, after that struggle through darkness, cannot be expressed in words. My first thought was for the girl, whose horse I had been leading, but her eyes were no longer open and staring vacantly forward; they were now tightly closed, and, to all appearances, she slept soundly in the saddle. In the first shock of so discovering her, I touched her flesh to assure myself that she was not dead, but the blood was flowing warm and life-like through her veins. She breathed so naturally I felt this slumber must be a symptom of recovery.