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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 271, 17 February 1881
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
JERRY’S GRANDMOTHER. [continued. I That was a very heavy coffin Miss Nancy and I carried down the bank in the black night, considering the size of it and the weight of most old women. But I said nothing, only to Peggy Herrick. The boat sunk almost to the water’s level when I got in. A black boat, a black cloth over the coffin, and Miss Nancy had given me a coat of black shag. Tire lake was smooth, but the clouds hid the stars, and there was no moon. I was to steer for Buffalo light. I knew the way, and it was no new thing for me to be out on the water in the dark. My orders were to steer for Buffalo light until I was a halfmile or more fiom port. Then I was to put in to a light that I would see in a high building to the north about a half mile —between a poplar tree and a church steeple. The light would be in the third story, and Jerry or somebody else at the dock. My oars were muffled—l knew that at the first stroke —and silent as death my boat pushed out, Buffalo light gleaming faintly over the dark waters.
“ Now Peggy, cut for home,” I said aloud, when I was well out from the point, and looking over my shoulder for the necessary bearings. I knew every tree-top dimly outlined in the distance against the sky. In two hours at most I would be at home for the current would help me. Should they follow me we would have a race with our oars, that was all. But how could they see my course in the darkness ? The clouds were breaking; but it would take better eyes than mine even to see such a black shape as my boat and its cargo pushed through the dark. I was perhaps a mile from home. A strange joy had given place to my fears. I was thinking how surprised father would be, and how many dollars the poor old grandmother would be worth, when my right oar creaked horribly under my excited pull. Another stroke, and I broke the oarlock Good heavens! and I was not dreaming ! It was not all a nightmare ! My oar was broken ! I had no other ! I had no other ! My boat was gliding into the main current of the river, the Niagara river, and the falls not fifteen miles below !. What did Ido ? What could I do but sit frozen in terror, helpless and numb? On, on, on, 1 was steadily floating. The night shutting me in ; nobody to hear, nobody to help; the distance between me and the bank of Grand Island growing wider and wider; the black, cruef current, the very gulf of death. No, I did not pray, unless the wild shrill cry I gave when I saw the roof of our house against the sky was a prayer. I had thrown off my wrappings to make the desperate plunge that would bring death the sooner, and save me from the hurrying dash through the rapids ahead, when I gave a loud despairing cry —a shriek so terrible I could not have repeated it but for the quick answer it brought. And Pont answered me ! Out from the darkness and across the dreadful river came his loud wolflike bay—a furious cry for help. Yes, it was more than that—it promised to save me; it told me to be brave. I answered; called him by name. Louder and louder did he bark and howl as he threw himself against the door and tore at it with his paws. If the door of Heaven ever opens to me the light will be like what I saw when father’s candle flickered over old Font’s head. He caught ray cry; my boat had passed the house, and waiting for nothing he ran down the bank. I could hear the clanking of the anchor chain, and Pont struggling to get into the boat.
“Row for shore, Peggy!” Father was 'at last fairly awake, as he said afterward. “ For God’s sake why don’t you row ?” Never a word he spoke when I shouted why I did not. He said he tried to speak—tried to say, “ Don’t be afraid, Peggy. I can save you ; ” but it was like shouting at a nightmare. He knew Pont was swimming after him, and he drove him back with his oar, wondering after he did. so how he dared take the second’s time. Then he says he remembers nothing more distinctly until we were nearly ashore, my boat in tow of his, and I in a dead faint upon my cargo. “ Peggy ! Peggy ! ” he was calling when I came to on the beach; and Pont could not be made to understand by blows why I was not to be torn and tossed and kissed and barked over. “ Peggy ! What tempted you to go body-liftin’ ? What graveyard did ye take it from ? ”
That made me laugh, if you can believe it, even then, in spile of everything. I kissed father and the dear old dog, and pulled at the grass as I sat there on the bank to make sure I was on dry ground again. Father was dreadfully bewildered, and kept talking about having forgotten to feed Pont and to call him in that night, just as if that was anything to be sorry for; for if the dog had been comfortable in his bed, and not shivering hungry out of doors, he would never have heard my cry, and then ?—I suppose God sends suffering to us all sometimes to make us help somebody else. “ But, father,” said I when my chattering teeth and Pont would let me speak, “ you must break into Parson Doty’s barn as soon as ever you can and take his best horse and ride over to Captain Bedell’s for me. No, no, get the horse and I’ll go myself.” “ Are you crazy, Peggy ? Is it body liftin’ and horse stealin’ both at once ?” “ It’s smuggled brandy, father—that’s what’s in that coffin—enough to make our fortune. Don’t wait for talk now ; be quick as you ever was in your life. I’ll hide the boat in the flags while you get the horse. They may be after me —the smugglers —you know. I was galloping across the island at a breakneck pace in no time, for the captain lived on the eastern shore. Father had taken no notice of my costume, but Captain Bedell did at once, or rather he was slow to discover Peggy Herrick in the rough-looking man rapping with a whip-handle on his bedroom window just before daybreak. The Captain didn’t need many directions when he was on the trail of smuggled brandy. He sent Vine Smith., back with me to guard the booty—each of us carried a revolver —and he started for the poplar tree and the church
steeple. Before night he had the whole gang in Buffalo jail—Miss Nancy, Father O’Leary, and departed grandmother and Jerry Clark, for as soon as I had pushed off with the coffin the three started out to follow at a safe distance with a cask of brandy in their boat, and the Captain, who had Jerry before their arrival, had little trouble in catching them. The Captain was a good friend of mine and he saw that I had not only the handsome reward, but perhaps more praise than I deserved. He interested himself in selling our place and in getting me into a good boarding-school in Batavia. Colonel Allen, who owns nearly all the island, gave father a good situation on his dairy farm, and a member of the Falconwood Club presented Pont with a silver-plated collar, with Latin on it, which was all well enough, for Pont can read Latin just as well as he can F.nglish, and I think he would rather not have everybody know what he has done in the world.
Did I ever see Miss Nancy again ? Yes, and that’s a part of my story. Guy Newton his real name was, and a right handsome fellow he was, too, not yet twenty when he was convicted ; and his mother was at his trial, crying as if her heart would break. He did not serve out his term in prison. He was pardoned after a few months. Only last summer I was sitting on the river bank by the old house, with some of the young folks staying at Captain Bedell’s hotel, when two English-look-ing gentlemen drew near to us. One had sandy side-whiskers and wore eyeglasses and carried an ebony cane. He was saying something to his companion about a lubber-head of a boy, deaf as a post, which naturally woke me up at once. He lifted his hat politely, and asked if we could tell him anything of a Peggy Herrick who once lived in that locality. Before I could hush anybody, for I knew who he was, little Beth Haskell cried out, “ Why this is Peggy Herrick. Everybody knows Peggy.” “ Indeed !” he said, extending his band, and I looked straight into those frank brown eyes as I gave him my hand. “ Our acquaintance does not begin here, and I trust this may be a renewal of it. Present my card, please, to Mr. Spaulding, of Falconwood. He will recommend me to your pardon.” I had said nothing, just nothing at all, and he was quite out of sight before I got my breath, and then the young folks were all laughing at me. No, I have never seen him since. We heard that he was a wealthy ranchman in Colorado, and highly respected. He is married, and has a lovely wife. The romance of my life is over. I have had my share, 1 suppose ; a little more than most folks, and about all I care for. There, that is all there is to it. It is not just as the newspapers had it, you see. My hair did not turn white out on the river, and I have not worn men’s clothes ever since. The truth is, I am tired of telling this story over and over, and I thought when Captain Bedell’s visitors ask me after this to come up on the piazza and tell “ that smuggling story,” while they watch the Niagara river gliding along under the moonlight, I would just give it to them in print—that is, if I can find anybody to print it for me. —New York Post.
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 271, 17 February 1881
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