previous
next

The Ferryman.

MITCHELL stood six feet in his stockings. By the water's edge, the boat; behind the shingle bed, the green turf; on the turf, the cottage. Part dairyman, part stock-raiser, and a big lump digger— that is the ferryman.

“Familiarity breeds contempt.” You see the mariner of thirty years lash the rope of the sail in its cleat. You see the engine-driver of ten years fall in a moment under the ponderous wheels of the locomotive. You watch the successful pilot of a hundred races thrown, dragged by the stirrup, and brained. Why should the ferryman be an exception?

Was it a river? Yes, when it rained; in fine weather it was only a creek. But then it often rained. At such times the water changed its colour and became a sour white. There is a caution in that which is fickle.




  ― 296 ―

Like a million other streams, its destiny was the Pacific. Under cover of the clouds the sea found time to whisper as they embraced:

“I am thy mother—some children played upon the shore to-day —I coveted them, but the tide was spent. Bring me a corpse of man to make me sport.”

And the river promised.

That night the sky was filled with silver cords. It was the rain. The river gurgled and rose. Mitchell took his lantern at ten o'clock, and went to see to his boat. He found water all round it.

The river eyed him cunningly. The boat never warned him. Below the boat was a recent eddy—breathless, triumphant. It had but that minute torn a huge hole in the shingle.

Putting the lantern on the bank, Mitchell stepped into the water to drag the boat further up the beach. He clutched the gunwale, and felt that his feet were drawn right under. At the same instant the boat began to pay out broadside down the stream.

Mitchell opened his mouth to cry for help. That attempted appeal was his death-warrant, swimmer though he was. In an instant his head went under.

The water poured down his throat. In fancy he felt his mother gently stroking his cheek. He loosed his grasp of the boat. When he rose, the power to struggle was for ever gone.

Mitchell's wife took the tin lamp, and, with her daughter, went in quest of her husband. The other children crowded in the doorway. The lantern still burned, but it rested on the stones. Where were the hands that had brought it there?

Coo-ee!

No answer.

Coo-ee-ee!

Silence is a mocker.

The river was too high to cross to the township, but one of the boys rode five miles down the bank to a neighbour's place for counsel and assistance. There is sublimity in the compulsory craving for sympathy at such a time.




  ― 297 ―

Ex-lieutenant Hamborough, once a soldier, now a beachcomber, rubbed his huge hands with satisfaction. The sea had been rough. There was a fine flat of sand with a bank of six feet at high-tide mark. All night had the sea sluiced those tons of stuff.

He reckoned twenty ounces at least.

He took his box with its plush and blanket ripples and sallied out. Gold sticks in hair. Maybe that is how woman first learned to feed vanity from effect.

Descending the bank, he began to shovel the useful sand into heaps.

He stopped, for the shovel struck a portion of flesh. He bored more. It was a man's back. He uncovered the lot, and identified it easily. It was his old friend, Mitchell, who had fought by his side at Cawnpore. And the knots of twenty years worn into the rope with which he had carried his box were easier to unravel than the wherefore of this strange meeting arranged by Fate.

Do not play at hazards with danger; keep well on the upper side.

L. DE BAKKER.

previous
next