’Sink ’em,’ I shouted, ‘an’ do it quick or they’ll sink us.’
My old companion took careful aim and his ball hit them right on the starboard bow below the water line. A splash told where it had landed. They stopped yelling. The man in the bow clapped his hat against the side of the boat.
’Guess we’ve gin ’em a little business t’ ten’ to,’ said Uncle Eb as he made haste to load his rifle.
The Indian at the bow was lifting his rifle again. He seemed to reel as he took aim. He was very slow about it. I kept pulling as I watched him. I saw that their boat was slowly sinking. I had a strange fear that he would hit me in the stomach. I dodged when I saw the flash of his rifle. His ball struck the water, ten feet away from us, and threw a spray into my face.
Uncle Eb had lifted his rifle to shoot again. Suddenly the Indian, who had shot at us, went overboard. In a second they were all in the water, their boat bottom up.
‘Now take yer time,’ said Uncle Eb coolly, a frown upon his face.
‘They’ll drown,’ said I.
’Don’t care if they do, consam ’em,’ he answered. ‘They’re some o’ them St Regis devils, an’ when they git whisky in ’em they’d jes’ soon kill ye as look at ye. They am’ no better ‘n rats.’
We kept on our way and by and by a wind came up that gave us both some comfort, for we knew it would soon blow them ashore. Ab Thomas had come to our camp and sat with Tip and Gerald when we got there. We told of our adventure and then Ab gave us a bad turn, and a proper appreciation of our luck, by telling us that they were a gang of cut-throats — the worst in the wilderness.
‘They’d a robbed ye sure,’ he said. ’It’s the same gang ’at killed a man on Cat Mountain las’ summer, an’ I’ll bet a dollar on it.’
Tip had everything ready for our journey home. Each day Gerald had grown paler and thinner. As we wrapped him in a shawl and tenderly helped him into the wagon I read his doom in his face. We saw so much of that kind of thing in our stern climate we knew what it meant. Our fun was over. We sat in silence, speeding down the long hills in the fading light of the afternoon. Those few solemn hours in which I heard only the wagon’s rumble and the sweet calls of the whip-poor-will-waves of music on a sea of silence-started me in a way of thought which has led me high and low these many years and still invites me. The day was near its end when we got to the first big clearing. From the top of a high hill we could see above the far forest, the red rim of the setting sun, big with winding from the skein of day, that was now flying off the tree-tops in the west.