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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Fiery Totem » CHAPTER I A PERILOUS PASSAGE
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"Well, good-bye, boys! You won't go far from camp before we return, will you?" The speaker was one of two men seated in an Indian canoe. He gripped the forward paddle, while his companion at the stern added cheerfully—

"The backwoods is not the City of London. There are no policemen to appeal to if you lose your way. Besides, we hope to find dinner waiting for our return. Hunting lost sons is not the same sport as hunting moose."

Both the boys laughed at the elder man's remark, and one—Bob Arnold by name—answered—

"Don't worry about us, father. Alf and I can take care of ourselves for half a day. Can't we, Alf?"[Pg 5]

"Rather," the younger chum replied. "It's our respected parents who'll need to take care of themselves in unknown waters in that cockleshell." Then he called out merrily, imitating the tone of the first speaker—his father: "Take care of yourselves, dads! Remember the Athabasca River is not Regent Street!"

"Cheeky youngster!" returned the elder man banteringly, as he struck the forward paddle into the water. "There's not much of the invalid left about you after three months' camping."

Then with waving hands and pleasant chaffing, that showed what real good chums the quartette were, the men struck out for the centre of the river, leaving their sons watching from the strand before the camp that was pitched beneath the shadow of the great pine trees.

It was a glorious morning—just the right sort for a hunting-expedition. The air was just chilly enough to render paddling a welcome exercise, and just warm enough to allow intervals of pleasant drifting in the centre of the current when there were no shoals or driftwood to be avoided.

"Yes," remarked Holden, the younger of the two men, as the rhythm of the dripping paddles[Pg 6] murmured pleasantly with Nature's music heard from leafy bough and bush; "yes, Alf's a different boy now. Who would have believed that these three short months would have changed a fever-wasted body into such a sturdy frame?"

"It looks like a miracle," returned the other man. "It was a great idea, that of a six months' trapping in the backwoods. When we get back to England we'll all four look as healthy as savages. My Bob is the colour of a redskin."

"It was a great blessing that you were able to bring him. It wouldn't have been half as enjoyable for Alf, not having a chum."

The elder man laughed softly as he turned a look of good-comradeship towards his companion.

"That's just as it ought to be, Holden," he said. "You and I were chums at school, chums at college, and now chums in business. It's the right thing that our sons should follow our good example. At least, that's my opinion."

"And you know it's mine," was the response. "But, I say! Do you think we are wise to keep quite in the centre of the current? It seems to be driving pretty hard, and we don't know the course. We might wish to land if we saw rapids."

"I dare say you are right," replied Arnold.[Pg 7] "We'll steer straight across that bend ahead of us. After that we can keep well under the shadow of the willows—or near them. We will look for a good landing spot and strike inwards. There ought to be moose or some equally good sport among those bluffs and clearings."

It is one thing to make plans; it is quite another matter to carry them out. Especially is this the case when strangers are travelling in strange country.

Of course the present mode of travel was no novelty to either of the men. Their youth had been passed in Western Canada (though not in the vicinity of the present voyage) before their parents sent them home to college in England. But even the hardened voyager knows that experience does not anticipate all chances, and this case was no exception to the rule.

The river was certainly beginning to run at a pace that was perceptibly swifter than that of the start when two miles farther up. This did not give any cause for concern, however, for the ears of the travellers were prepared for any sound that indicated rapids, and there was no other contingency that they felt need to dread.

At a little distance ahead, the course could be[Pg 8] seen to take a sharp turn to the right, where the dense growth of beech and towering pines resembled the portals of a giant gateway; and, as it neared the opening, the canoe swung round the curve with the swift flight of a swallow.

It was a sudden change of pace, due mainly to the sharpness of the turn. But as soon as the men fully entered the fresh span of the course they both started involuntarily, for the banks were so steep as to prohibit landing, and the river narrowed towards a second gateway formed by towering cliffs—steep as a Colorado ca?on.

"Look out!" exclaimed Holden, as he knelt high and gripped his paddle firmly. "Leave the steering to me, I can manage better from the stern. Come back here if you can."

The canoe had already begun to dance among foaming crests like an egg-shell.

Arnold crept towards his companion.

"Not a pleasant look out!" he remarked, with a grim smile on his face. "It will be a marvel if we get through that ca?on with dry skins."

"Dry skins!" laughed Holden. His voice was laughing, but his eyes were fixed steadily a few yards in front of the canoe with that firm gaze of a brave man looking peril straight in the[Pg 9] face. "Dry skins! It'll be a greater marvel if we get through it with any skins at all!"

"We'll have a good try, anyway," responded Arnold. Then he remarked quaintly: "This is like old times, isn't it—you and I out in a scrape together? I hope the Head won't blow us up for it when we get back to school!"

The river had now entered the narrow course, and was rushing on a foaming way with an awesome roar.

Now and then the canoe would leap to one side as a wave hungrily licked her prow; sometimes she would push her nose into a crest that splashed the travellers with spray. Fortunately the spring torrents were over, and danger from drifting logs was not to be reckoned with, but the possibility that rocks might be hidden among the white waves was a reasonable cause for concern—all the more so, considering that they were unknown.

Onwards they dashed at breakneck speed, while both the men sat grimly silent, prepared to take bravely whatever fate might be in store for them. Probably their thoughts were more of the two boys at the camp than of their present strait—more engaged with commending their[Pg 10] sons to the care of God than speculating as to the result of this adventure.

Then, with a suddenness that gave no time for thought, there was a crash like crackling match-wood—a rush of water that seemed to crush all within its embrace. Next moment the two men were struggling in the stream.

At that crisis, Arnold's first thought was for his friend—just as it had always been since he fought his chum's first battles at school.

He grabbed wildly, and held on to something that he afterwards found to be his friend's jacket.

"Are you all right?" he yelled above the din of the waters, as both men reached the surface.

"A1 at Lloyd's!" came the cheerful reply—undaunted even in extremity.

"That's good. We'll weather this yet. Hang on to my coat, and we'll keep together!"

Being expert swimmers, there was little cause for fear so long as the current passed clear of obstacles, and the men had little to do but keep a suitable position, for the force of the water bore them well on the surface. But the chief danger was from undercurrents and whirlpools, and as the boundaries of the river rapidly narrowed this risk became more serious every moment.[Pg 11]

As they rushed onwards, so the two walls of the ca?on came nearer—shutting out the light until the scene resembled the gloomy depths of a seething cauldron.

Closer and closer came the walls; swifter and swifter rushed the water.

Now the limits were so narrow that the river was but a smooth riband darting between walls worn glassy by the wear of countless ages.

The friends came so close that they touched one another's shoulders.

That was one moment.

The next instant each felt himself shot forward through a narrow opening like a cork that is volleyed from a bottle; and when the men came to realise their position, they found themselves floating on the surface of a placid lake into which the ca?on poured its flood.

They looked at one another. The adventure had parted them, but Arnold laughingly held up a portion of Holden's coat as a banner to signal his position.

"Our same old luck!" exclaimed Holden, laughing.

"It'll cost you a new coat!" returned Arnold with equal cheer.[Pg 12]

It was perhaps a hundred yards to the nearest shore, so the men immediately started in that direction. Both were considerably exhausted by the experiences through which they had providentially passed without serious injury, and consequently the progress was slow.

But at last they reached the bank, where the red and grey willows bent their long strands in a tangled trellis.

Knee deep in the mud, the men stood upright, to clear the way to freedom. But, as they parted the nearest branches, a number of arms were suddenly forced through the scrub; a number of hands gripped them with irresistible strength; and before they could realise what had happened they were rudely dragged up the bank of the lake.


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