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VII. A Year of Nobility Henry van Dyke

Enter The Marquis

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But while he was holding the canoe steady for Alden to step out to his place in the bow, Jean came down and pushed him aside. "Go to bed, dam' fool," he muttered, shoved the canoe out into the river, and jumped lightly to his own place in the stern.

Alden smiled to himself and said nothing for a while. When they were a mile or two down the river he remarked, "So I see you changed your mind, Jean. Do you think better of the river now?"

"No, m'sieu', I think the same."

"Well then?"

"Because I must share the luck with you whether it is good or bad. It is no shame to have fear. The shame is not to face it. But one thing I ask of you--"

"And that is?"

"Kneel as low in the canoe as you can, paddle steady, and do not dodge when a wave comes."

Alden was half inclined to turn back, and give it up. But pride made it difficult to say the word. Besides the fishing was sure to be superb; not a line had been wet there since last year. It was worth a little risk. The danger could not be so very great after all. How fair the river ran,--a current of living topaz between banks of emerald! What but good luck could come on such a day?

The canoe was gliding down the last smooth stretch. Alden lifted his head, as they turned the corner, and for the first time saw the passage close before him. His face went white, and he set his teeth.

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The left-hand branch of the river, cleft by the rocky point of the island, dropped at once into a tumult of yellow foam and raved downward along the northern shore. The right-hand branch swerved away to the east, running with swift, silent fury. On the lower edge of this desperate race of brown billows, a huge whirlpool formed and dissolved every two or three minutes, now eddying round in a wide backwater into a rocky bay on the end of the island, now swept away by the rush of waves into the white rage of the rapids below.

There was the secret pathway. The trick was, to dart across the right-hand current at the proper moment, catch the rim of the whirlpool as it swung backward, and let it sweep you around to the end of the island. It was easy enough at low water. But now?

The smooth waves went crowding and shouldering down the slope as if they were running to a fight. The river rose and swelled with quick, uneven passion. The whirlpool was in its place one minute; the next, it was blotted out; everything rushed madly downward--and below was hell.

Jean checked the boat for a moment, quivering in the strong current, waiting for the TOURNIQUET to form again. Five seconds--ten seconds--"Now!" he cried.

The canoe shot obliquely into the stream, driven by strong, quick strokes of the paddles. It seemed almost to leap from wave to wave. All was going well. The edge of the whirlpool was near. Then came the crest of a larger wave,--slap--into the boat. Alden shrank involuntarily from the cold water, and missed his stroke. An eddy caught the bow and shoved it out. The whirlpool receded, dissolved. The whole river rushed down upon the canoe and carried it away like a leaf.

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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