Across the long table, bare of cloth, the coarse food served in pewter dishes, I was struck by the drawn, ghastly look in Beaucaire’s face. He had aged perceptibly in the last few hours, and during the meal scarcely exchanged a word with anyone, eating silently, his eyes downcast. Kirby, however, was the life of the company, and the miners roared at his humorous stories, and anecdotes of adventure—while outside it grew dark, and the little Warrior struggled cautiously through the waters, seeking the channel in the gloom.
THE END OF THE GAME
Unconscious that the stage had thus been set for a great life drama, a drama in which, through strange circumstances, I was destined to play my part, amid stirring scenes of Indian war, and in surroundings that would test my courage and manhood to the utter-most; yet, although I heard it not, the hour had already struck, and I stood on the brink of a tragedy beyond my power to avert.
I left the others still seated about the table, and returned alone to the outer deck. I had no plans for the evening, and retain now only slight recollection as to the happenings of the next few hours, which I passed quietly smoking in the darkened pilot house, conversing occasionally with Thockmorton, who clung to the wheel, carefully guiding his struggling boat through the night-draped waters. The skill with which he found passage through the enshrouding gloom, guided by signs invisible to my eyes, aided only by a fellow busily casting a lead line in the bows, and chanting the depth of water, was amazing. Seemingly every flitting shadow brought its message, every faint glimmer of starlight pointed the way to safety.
It must have been nearly midnight before I finally wearied of this, and decided to seek a few hours’ rest below, descending the short ladder, and walking forward along the open deck for one last glance ahead. Some time the next day we were to be in St. Louis, and this expectation served to brighten my thoughts. It was a dark night, but with a clear sky, the myriad of stars overhead reflecting their lights along the river surface, and bringing into bold relief the dense shadows of the shores on either side. The boat, using barely enough power to afford steering way, swept majestically down stream, borne by the force of the current, which veered from bank to bank. We were moving scarcely swifter than from eight to ten miles an hour, and the monotonous voice of the man casting the lead line arose continuous through the brooding silence. The only other perceptible sounds were the exhaust of the steam pipes and the splash of running water. Thockmorton had told me we were already approaching the mouth of the Illinois, and I lingered against the rail, straining my eyes through the gloom hoping to gain a distant glimpse of that beautiful stream. We were skirting the eastern shore, the wooded bank rising almost as high as our smokestack, and completely shutting off all view of the horizon.