THE CABIN OF AMOS SHRUNK
Beyond this passing of the John B. Glover, the day proved uneventful, although all further desire for sleep deserted me. It was late afternoon before Rene finally emerged from the cabin to learn the news, and I spent most of the time on watch, seated at the edge of the bluff, my eyes searching the surface of the river. While Kirby’s presence up stream, unquestionably increased our peril of capture, this did not cause me as much anxious thought as did the strange disappearance of Free Pete, and the two women. What had become of them during the night? Surely they could never have out-stripped us, with only a pair of oars by which to combat the current, and yet we had obtained no glimpse of them anywhere along that stretch of river.
The knowledge that the steamer which had passed us was heavily laden with troops was most encouraging. In itself alone this was abundant proof of the safe delivery of my dispatches, and I was thus relieved to realize that this duty had been performed. My later disappearance was excusable, now that I was convinced the papers intrusted to me had reached the right hands. There might be wonder, and, later, the necessity of explanation, yet no one would suffer from my absence, and I was within the limits of my furlough—the reinforcements for Forts Armstrong and Crawford were already on their way. So, altogether, I faced the task of eluding Kirby with a lighter heart, and renewed confidence. Alone, as I believed him to be, and in that new country on the very verge of civilization, he was hardly an antagonist I needed greatly to fear. Indeed, as man to man, I rather welcomed an encounter.
There is little to record, either of the day or the night. The latter shut down dark, but rainless, although the sky was heavily overcast by clouds. Satisfied that the river was clear as far as eye could reach in every direction, we managed to pole the heavy boat out of its berth in the creek while the twilight yet lingered, the western sky still remaining purple from the lingering sunset as we emerged into the broader stream. The following hours passed largely in silence, each of us, no doubt, busied with our own thoughts. Sam made no endeavor to speed his engine, keeping most of the way close to the deeper shadow of the shore, and the machinery ran smoothly, its noise indistinguishable at any distance. Twice we touched bottom, but to no damage other than a slight delay and the labor of poling off into deeper water, while occasionally overhanging limbs of trees, unnoticed in the gloom, struck our faces. By what uncanny skill the negro was able to navigate, how he found his way in safety along that ragged bank, remains a mystery. To my eyes all about us was black, impenetrable, not even the water reflecting a gleam of light; indeed, so dense was the surrounding gloom that in the deeper shadows I could not even distinguish the figure of the girl seated beside me in the cockpit. Yet there was scarcely a break in the steady chug of the engine, or the gentle swish of water alongside.