He had come down to the water-side with his master, and on seeing the way in which the men were working, had calculated that it would yet take above a week to carry over all who remained, and as it was probable that they would be attacked before twenty-four hours were over, he had observed that they might as well give themselves up for lost if they could devise no other scheme of passing over.
“We will do the best we can,” said Henri. “If we can get over the women, and children, and wounded, the rest of us can fight our way to the bridge of Ancenis.”
“Why not make a raft?” said Chapeau.
“Make one if you can,” said Henri, “but it will only go down the stream. Besides, you have neither timber nor iron ready to do it.”
Chapeau, however, determined to try, and he employed the men from Durbelliere, who knew him, and would work for him, to get together every piece of timber they could collect. They brought down to the bank of the river the green trunks of small trees, the bodies of old waggons, the small beams which they were able to pull down out of the deserted cottages near the river-side, pieces of bedsteads, and broken fragments of barn doors. All these Chapeau, with endless care, joined together by numberless bits of ropes, and at last succeeded in getting afloat a raft on which some forty or fifty men might stand, but which seemed to be anything but a safe or commodious means of transit. In the first place, though it supported the men on it, it did not bear them high and dry above the water, which came over the ankles of most of them. Then there was no possible means of steering the unwieldy bark; and there could be no doubt that if the Argonauts did succeed in getting their vessels out into the river, it would immediately descend the stream, and that it, and those upon it, would either be upset altogether, or taken to whichever bank and whatever part of it, the river in its caprice might please.
In this dilemma a brilliant idea occurred to Chapeau. He still had plenty of rope in his possession, and having fastened one end of a long coil with weights and blocks on the riverside, he passed over with the other end into the island, and fastened it there. The rope, therefore, traversed the river, and by holding on to this, and passing it slowly through their hands, while they strained against the raft with their feet, the enterprising crew who had first embarked reached the island in safety. Ten of the number had to return with the raft, but still from thirty to forty had been taken over, and that without any great delay.
After this first success the boats were sent round to work between the island and the other shore, and the raft was kept passing to and fro over the river the whole night. Nobody got over with dry feet, but still no one was drowned, and upon the whole Chapeau was considered to be entitled to the thanks of the whole army for the success of his invention. He had certainly accelerated their passage fivefold.