Rudder Grange/Chapter 2
TREATING OF A NOVEL STYLE OF BOARDER
In this delightful way of living only one thing troubled us. We didn't save any money. There were so many little things that we wanted, and so many little things that were so cheap, that I spent pretty much all I made, and that was far from the philosophical plan of living that I wished to follow.
We talked this matter over a great deal after we had lived in our new home for about a month, and we came at last to the conclusion that we would take a boarder.
We had no trouble in getting a boarder, for we had a friend, a young man who was engaged in the flour business, who was very anxious to come and live with us. He had been to see us two or three times, and had expressed himself charmed with our household arrangements.
So we made terms with him. The carpenter partitioned off another room, and our boarder brought his trunk and a large red velvet arm-chair, and took up his abode at Rudder Grange.
We liked our boarder very much; but he had some peculiarities. I suppose everybody has them. Among other things, he was very fond of telling us what we ought to do. He suggested more improvements in the first three days of his sojourn with us than I had thought of since we commenced housekeeping. And what made the matter worse, his suggestions were generally very good ones. Had it been otherwise, I might have borne his remarks more complacently, but to be continually told what you ought to do, and to know that you ought to do it, is extremely annoying.
He was very anxious that I should take off the rudder, which was certainly useless to a boat situated as ours was, and make an ironing-table of it. I persisted that the laws of symmetrical propriety required that the rudder should remain where it was—that the very name of our home would be interfered with by its removal, but he insisted that "Ironing-table Grange" would be just as good a name, and that symmetrical propriety in such a case did not amount to a row of pins.
The result was that we did have the ironing-table, and that Euphemia was very much pleased with it. A great many other improvements were projected and carried out by him, and I was very much worried. He made a flower-garden for Euphemia on the extreme forward-deck, and, having borrowed a wheelbarrow, he wheeled dozens of loads of arable dirt up our gang-plank and dumped them out on the deck. When he had covered the garden with a suitable depth of earth, he smoothed it off and then planted flower-seeds. It was rather late in the season, but most of them came up. I was pleased with the garden, but sorry I had not made it myself.
One afternoon I got away from the office considerably earlier than usual, and I hurried home to enjoy the short period of daylight that I should have before supper. It had been raining the day before, and as the bottom of our garden leaked so that earthy water trickled down at one end of our bedroom, I intended to devote a short time to stuffing up the cracks in the ceiling or bottom of the deck—whichever seems the most appropriate.
But when I reached a bend in the river road whence I always had the earliest view of my establishment, I did not have that view. I hurried on. The nearer I approached the place where I lived, the more horror-stricken I became. There was no mistaking the fact.
The boat was not there!
In an instant the truth flashed upon me.
The water was very high—the rain had swollen the river—my house had floated away!
It was Wednesday. On Wednesday afternoons our boarder came home early.
I clapped my hat tightly on my head and ground my teeth.
"Confound that boarder!" I thought. "He has been fooling with the anchor. He always said it was of no use, and, taking advantage of my absence, he has hauled it up and has floated away, and has gone—gone with my wife and my home!"
Euphemia and Rudder Grange had gone off together—where I knew not—and with them that horrible suggester!
I ran wildly along the bank. I called aloud, I shouted and hailed each passing craft—of which there were only two—but their crews must have been very inattentive to the woes of landsmen, or else they did not hear me, for they paid no attention to my cries.
I met a fellow with an axe on his shoulder. I shouted to him before I reached him:
"Hello! did you see a boat—a house, I mean—floating up the river?"
"A boat-house?" asked the man.
"No, a house-boat," I gasped.
"Didn't see nuthin' like it," said the man, and he passed on, to his wife and home, no doubt. But me! Oh, where was my wife and my home?
I met several people, but none of them had seen a fugitive canal-boat.
How many thoughts came into my brain as I ran along that river road! If that wretched boarder had not taken the rudder for an ironing-table, he might have steered in-shore! Again and again I confounded—as far as mental ejaculations could do it—his suggestions.
I was rapidly becoming frantic when I met a person who hailed me.
"Hello!" he said, "are you after a canal-boat adrift?"
"Yes," I panted.
"I thought you was," he said. "You looked that way. Well, I can tell you where she is. She's stuck fast in the reeds at the lower end o' Peter's Pint."
"Where's that?" said I.
"Oh, it's about a mile furder up. I seed her a-drifting up with the tide—big flood tide to-day—and I thought I'd see Somebody after her afore long. Anything aboard?"
I could not answer the man. Anything, indeed! I hurried on up the river without a word. Was the boat a wreck? I scarcely dared to think of it. I scarcely dared to think at all.
The man called after me, and I stopped. I could but stop, no matter what I might hear.
"Hello, mister!" he said; "got any tobacco?"
I walked up to him. I took hold of him by the lapel of his coat. It was a dirty lapel, as I remember even now, but I didn't mind that.
"Look here!" said I. "Tell me the truth; I can bear it. Was that vessel wrecked?"
The wretched man looked at me a little queerly. I could not exactly interpret his expression.
"You're sure you kin bear it?" said he.
"Yes," said I, my hand trembling as I held his coat.
"Well, then," said he, "it's mor'n I kin," and he jerked his coat out of my hand and sprang away. When he reached the other side of the road he turned and shouted at me as though I had been deaf.
"Do you know what I think?" he yelled. "I think you're a darned lunatic!" And with that he went his way.
I hastened on to Peter's Point. Long before I reached it I saw the boat.
It was apparently deserted. But still I pressed on. I must know the worst.
When I reached the Point I found that the boat had run aground, with her head in among the long reeds and mud, and the rest of her hull lying at an angle from the shore.
There was consequently no way for me to get on board, but to wade through the mud and reeds to her bow, and then climb up as well as I could.
This I did; but it was not easy to do. Twice I sank above my knees in mud and water, and had it not been for reeds, masses of which I frequently clutched when I thought I was going over, I believe I should have fallen down and come to my death in that horrible marsh. When I reached the boat, I stood up to my hips in water and saw no way of climbing up. The gang-plank had undoubtedly floated away, and if it had not, it would have been of no use to me in my position.
But I was desperate. I clasped the post that
they put in the bow of canal-boats; I stuck my toes and my finger-nails in the cracks between the boards—how glad I was that the boat was an old one and had cracks!—and so, painfully and slowly, slipping part way down once or twice, and besliming myself from chin to foot, I climbed up that post and scrambled upon deck. In an instant I reached the top of the stairs, and in another instant I rushed below.
There sat my wife and our boarder, one on each side of the dining-room table, complacently playing checkers!
My sudden entrance startled them.
My appearance startled them still more.
Euphemia sprang to her feet and tottered toward me.
"Mercy! " she exclaimed. "Has anything happened?"
"Happened!" I gasped.
"Look here!" cried the boarder, clutching me by the arm, "what a condition you're in! Did you fall in?"
"Fall in! "said I.
Euphemia and the boarder looked at each other. I looked at them. Then I opened my mouth in earnest.
"I suppose you don't know," I yelled, "that you have drifted away!"
"By George!" cried the boarder, and in two bounds he was on deck.
Dirty as I was, Euphemia fell into my arms. I told her all. She hadn't known a bit of it!
The boat had so gently drifted off, and had so gently grounded among the reeds, that the voyage had never so much as disturbed their games of checkers.
"He plays such a splendid game," Euphemia sobbed, "and just as you came I thought I was going to beat him. I had two kings and two pieces on the next to last row, and you are nearly drowned. You'll get your death of cold—and—and he had only one king."
She led me away, and I undressed and washed myself and put on my Sunday clothes.
When I reappeared I went out on deck with Euphemia. The boarder was there, standing by the petunia bed. His arms were folded, and he was thinking profoundly. As we approached, he turned towards us.
"You were right about that anchor," he said. "I should not have hauled it in; but it was such a little anchor that I thought it would be of more use on board as a garden hoe."
"A very little anchor will sometimes do very well," said I cuttingly, "when it is hooked around a tree."
"Yes, there is something in that," said he.
It was now growing late, and as our agitation subsided we began to be hungry. Fortunately, we had everything necessary on board, and, as it really didn't make any difference in our household economy where we happened to be located, we had supper quite as usual. In fact, the kettle had been put on to boil during the checker-playing.
After supper, we went on deck to smoke, as was our custom, but there was a certain coolness between me and our boarder.
Early the next morning I arose and went upstairs to consider what had better be done, when I saw the boarder standing on shore near by.
"Hello!" he cried! "the tide's down, and I got ashore without any trouble. You stay where you are. I've hired a couple of mules to tow the boat back. They'll be here when the tide rises. And, hello! I've found the gang-plank. It floated ashore about a quarter of a mile below here."
In the course of the afternoon the mules and two men with a long rope appeared, and we were then towed back to where we belonged.
And we are there yet. Our boarder remains with us, as the weather is still fine, and the coolness between us is gradually diminishing. But the boat is moored at both ends, and twice a day I look to see if the ropes are all right.
The petunias are growing beautifully, but the geraniums do not seem to flourish. Perhaps there is not a sufficient depth of earth for them. Several times our boarder has appeared to be on the point of suggesting something in regard to them, but, for some reason or other, he says nothing.