THE RIVERMAN

THE RIVERMAN

by Stewart Edward White
     
 
The time was the year 1872, and the place a bend in the river above a
long pond terminating in a dam. Beyond this dam, and on a flat
lower than it, stood a two-story mill structure. Save for a small,
stump-dotted clearing, and the road that led from it, all else was
forest. Here in the bottom-lands, following the course of the stream,
the hardwoods

Overview

The time was the year 1872, and the place a bend in the river above a
long pond terminating in a dam. Beyond this dam, and on a flat
lower than it, stood a two-story mill structure. Save for a small,
stump-dotted clearing, and the road that led from it, all else was
forest. Here in the bottom-lands, following the course of the stream,
the hardwoods grew dense, their uppermost branches just beginning to
spray out in the first green of spring. Farther back, where the higher
lands arose from the swamp, could be discerned the graceful frond of
white pines and hemlock, and the sturdy tops of Norways and spruce.

A strong wind blew up the length of the pond. It ruffled the surface of
the water, swooping down in fan-shaped, scurrying cat's-paws, turning
the dark-blue surface as one turns the nap of velvet. At the upper end
of the pond it even succeeded in raising quite respectable wavelets,
which LAP LAP LAPPED eagerly against a barrier of floating logs that
filled completely the mouth of the inlet river. And behind this barrier
were other logs, and yet others, as far as the eye could see, so that
the entire surface of the stream was carpeted by the brown timbers. A
man could have walked down the middle of that river as down a highway.

On the bank, and in a small woods-opening, burned two fires, their smoke
ducking and twisting under the buffeting of the wind. The first of
these fires occupied a shallow trench dug for its accommodation, and was
overarched by a rustic framework from which hung several pails, kettles,
and pots. An injured-looking, chubby man in a battered brown derby hat
moved here and there. He divided his time between the utensils and an
indifferent youth--his "cookee." The other, and larger, fire centred a
rectangle composed of tall racks, built of saplings and intended for the
drying of clothes. Two large tents gleamed white among the trees.

About the drying-fire were gathered thirty-odd men. Some were
half-reclining before the blaze; others sat in rows on logs drawn close
for the purpose; still others squatted like Indians on their heels,
their hands thrown forward to keep the balance. Nearly all were smoking
pipes.

Every age was represented in this group, but young men predominated. All
wore woollen trousers stuffed into leather boots reaching just to the
knee. These boots were armed on the soles with rows of formidable sharp
spikes or caulks, a half and sometimes even three quarters of an inch in
length. The tight driver's shoe and "stagged" trousers had not then come
into use. From the waist down these men wore all alike, as though in a
uniform, the outward symbol of their calling. From the waist up was more
latitude of personal taste. One young fellow sported a bright-coloured
Mackinaw blanket jacket; another wore a red knit sash, with tasselled
ends; a third's fancy ran to a bright bandana about his neck. Head-gear,
too, covered wide variations of broader or narrower brim, of higher or
lower crown; and the faces beneath those hats differed as everywhere
the human countenance differs. Only when the inspection, passing the
gradations of broad or narrow, thick or thin, bony or rounded, rested
finally on the eyes, would the observer have caught again the caste-mark
which stamped these men as belonging to a distinct order, and separated
them essentially from other men in other occupations. Blue and brown
and black and gray these eyes were, but all steady and clear with the
steadiness and clarity that comes to those whose daily work compels
them under penalty to pay close and undeviating attention to their
surroundings. This is true of sailors, hunters, plainsmen, cowboys,
and tugboat captains. It was especially true of the old-fashioned
river-driver, for a misstep, a miscalculation, a moment's forgetfulness
of the sullen forces shifting and changing about him could mean for
him maiming or destruction. So, finally, to one of an imaginative bent,
these eyes, like the "cork boots," grew to seem part of the uniform, one
of the marks of their caste, the outward symbol of their calling.

"Blow, you son of a gun!" cried disgustedly one young fellow with a red
bandana, apostrophising the wind. "I wonder if there's ANY side of this
fire that ain't smoky!"

Product Details

ISBN-13:
2940013158177
Publisher:
SAP
Publication date:
07/30/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
287 KB

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