First steps are always full of interest,
at least to those who take them; and, as I look back
upon the eventful time when our little procession
left the back of the barn, it looms up as the most
exciting moment of my life, if I except the instant
when I was struggling with Sim Gwynn in the water.
I was leaving the only home I had known for years,
and was going on a strange voyage down the river on
a raft. I shall not soon forget the emotions
which agitated me.
Sim led the way with the wheelbarrow
piled high with Flora’s bed, bundles of clothing,
blankets, sheets, and comforters, while I brought
up the rear, dragging Flora’s wagon, in which
she was seated. My poor sister was quite cheerful,
and did not seem to be disturbed by any timidity.
“Hurry up, Sim!” I called
to my file-leader. “We have no time to lose.”
“Won’t Captain Fishley
come after us?” asked Flora, as Sim quickened
“He will if he knows where to
come; but the swamp will be the last place in the
world where any one would think of looking for us.
Before morning we shall be miles away. Don’t
be alarmed, Flora.”
“I am not alarmed. I feel
ever so much better than I did when I thought of meeting
Mrs. Fishley again. Do you think it is right for
us to do this, Buckland?”
“Right! Of course it is.
I don’t know of any reason why we should stay
with Captain Fishley and his wife, to be kicked and
cuffed by them any longer.”
Flora was thoughtful; but I knew she
would not have come with me if she had believed it
was wrong to do so. We were all silent till we
reached the verge of the swamp, where the small raft
lay. We unloaded the wheelbarrow, and Sim went
back for the rest of the articles. I placed my
sister’s bed on the raft, and taking her in my
arms, I laid her upon it, and covered her with blankets,
that the night air might not injure her. I then
pushed the raft over to the branch of the creek.
“Is that the raft?” exclaimed
Flora, as I pointed it out to her.
“That’s it; and I am sure
you will be happier on board of it than at Fishley’s.”
“The house looks real nice!
There is the stove-pipe. You have one glass window.”
“Yes; that is in your room,”
I replied, as I ran the tender alongside the great
I fastened it securely, and helped
Flora on board. She was almost as much delighted
with my handiwork as I had been myself. I conveyed
her bed to her apartment, and placed it in the bunk.
It was not a bad fit.
“Now, Flora, I must leave you,
and go for the rest of the things. You can lie
down in your bed, and I will cover you with blankets.”
“I’m not cold. Shall you be gone
long?” she asked.
“This is a very dismal place.”
“You shall be on the broad river in the morning.”
She lay down, and I left her to meet
Sim at the landing-place. He had arrived before
me, and we loaded all the rest of the goods on the
“What shall I do with the wheelbarrow?”
“Take it up into the open field,
where they can see it. It might lie in the swamp
for a year before any one found it; and I don’t
mean to take a single thing from Fishley. I carried
back the saw I borrowed, and bought a new one.
I don’t owe him anything now,” I replied.
“I reckon he’ll wonder
where you and Miss Flora are, when he gets back,”
said Sim, with one of his broad grins.
“Let him wonder. I shall
not charge him anything for wondering.”
“I s’pose not,”
chuckled Sim, as he went off with the wheelbarrow.
While he was gone, I amused myself
in picking up a quantity of dry wood on the high ground
for the stove, which I placed upon the raft. As
soon as Sim returned, we pushed off, and made our
last trip through the swamp. When we arrived
at the raft, I found Flora had got up, and was walking
about the platform. She was so nervous she could
not lie in bed. I placed her chair in the large
room, closed the shutters, and made a fire in the
stove. In a few minutes I had the pleasure of
seeing her seated before the fire, seemingly comfortable
Sim and I transferred the articles,
including Flora’s wagon, from the small raft
to the house on the large one. By this time it
was quite dark, and I lighted my lantern. My
first work was in Flora’s room, where I made
up the bed, and spread a rug on the floor. I drove
nails into the walls to hang her clothes upon, and
arranged her boxes on some shelves I had put up.
The place looked very cosy to me, and Flora declared
that it was ever so much nicer than she had expected.
I had taken great pains with this part of the building,
and carefully stopped every crack where the wind could
blow through upon her, and the roof had already been
tested in a heavy shower.
By nine o’clock, as nearly as
I could guess the time, I had finished my sister’s
room; but, though it was past her bedtime, she was
not willing to retire. I had hoped she would
take to her bed at the usual hour, and relieve me
of all anxiety about her, for I was afraid she would
catch cold and be sick. But the excitement would
not permit her to do so. The stove warmed both
of the rooms, and we were in more danger from the want
of ventilation than from the night air. She sat
in her chair in her room, with Sim and me before her,
talking over the matter.
“Why don’t you start,
Buckland?” she asked, when I had detailed more
fully than before my plans.
“It is rather too early yet.
You know the road to Riverport runs along the bank
of the creek, and I don’t wish anybody in these
parts to see us,” I replied.
“The sooner we start, the farther
we shall get before morning,” added Sim, who
was as impatient as Flora.
“We shall be far enough off
in the morning. How fast do you suppose the raft
will go, Sim?”
“It will go about as fast as
the current without any help; and that is three or
four miles an hour. We shall be at least twenty
miles from here at five o’clock in the morning.”
“But won’t they miss us
at the house, Buckland?” asked Flora.
“Certainly they will. Very
likely they have missed us by this time.”
“Suppose they should find us?”
“We should be no worse off than
before. But there is not the remotest chance
that they will find us. Do you think they would
look in the swamp for you, Flora?”
She was satisfied, and we continued
to discuss the future, until I judged that it was
late enough to commence the voyage. I wished to
be sure that Captain Fishley and his wife had returned
from Riverport. The night was quite dark, and
I had no fear that the raft would be seen; but even
if it were, it was not a very uncommon thing for such
a craft to go down the river.
I had made a crooked steering oar,
and built a platform to stand upon, so that the helmsman
could see over the house. I mounted this platform,
and took hold of the end of the oar.
“Now cast off the forward fast,
Sim!” I called to my deck hand.
“All clear,” replied Sim,
when he had drawn in the line, which had been passed
round a tree so that it could be hauled in without
going on shore.
“Now let go the other!”
Sim untied one of the ends of the
rope, and was pulling it in, when I felt a consciousness
that something was wrong, though I could not tell
what. It flashed across my mind that I was making
“Hold on, Sim!” I shouted,
jumping down from the platform, and trying to catch
the rope; but the end had gone ashore.
“What’s the matter, Buck?”
called Sim, apparently alarmed by my sudden movements.
“I have forgotten my money!”
I exclaimed, as I leaped on the small raft which lay
I sprang for the tree to which the
great raft was fastened, in order to secure the rope;
but it was too late. The current started the raft,
and dragged the rope off before I could catch hold
of it. In the darkness and the night the craft
went off without me.
“Don’t leave me, Buck!” called Sim.
“Take the steering oar, and run her up to the
shore!” I replied.
I had the small raft, and I could
follow at pleasure, and join my companions; but if
I pushed off, I could not return, for the branch of
the creek was too deep for me to use the pole.
I could not think of going without my money.
I saw Sim jump upon the platform,
and work the steering oar vigorously, but with more
power than skill. He succeeded in running her
up to the bank.
“Now hold on to her!”
I shouted. “I shall not be gone long!”
I pushed the raft to the tree where
I had concealed the money; and, though I had some
difficulty in finding it, I succeeded; still, three
times as many minutes were wasted in the operation
as I supposed would be necessary. With the roll
of bills in my pocket-book, I pushed off again, and
soon reached the stream. Launching out into the
current, the raft was borne with its flow towards
I could not see the light on the raft
where I had left it, only a few rods below the starting-point.
My frail bark was not large enough to float easily
on the rapid stream, and in spite of my best efforts,
it would whirl round, for the pole in my hand had
not blade enough to enable me to steer with it.
In a few moments I reached the place where I had last
seen the light through the window of Flora’s
room; but the raft was not there. It was not
to be seen before me; but the stream made a bend a
short distance below me.
The raft had probably broken loose,
and Sim had been unable to stop it; but it was not
like my fellow-voyager to let it go without yelling
at the top of his lungs, and he had more voice than
wits. Though all my hopes were in the ark I had
built, and Flora, whom I loved more than life, was
a passenger upon it, I was not alarmed. Sim would
be able to run it up to the shore, and probably had
done so beyond the bend.
I always had a habit of looking on
the bright side of things, and was disposed never
to despair; at least not till I had seen what was beyond
the next bend in the stream of life. I was quite
confident I should find the ark of my safety in a
few moments more, and I did not even attempt to hurry
the crazy float on which I travelled. I reached
the bend, and strained my eyes to peer through the
gloom, which hung deep and heavy over the swamp.
The stream was straight for half a mile ahead of me,
but no light gladdened my eyes.
I was startled, and even terrified, by the situation.