Lost in the Fog (A Tale of Adventure)
IT’S odd how some people take to geese. As a boy I never could understand, for the life of me, how one could ever have any love of a goose in him. When I came out in the glory of my first trousers a whole flock of geese came after me, the sacred garment with their bills, and hissing me to shame of my new dignity, and screaming in derision as they pulled me down. After that and for long I treasured a most unrighteous hatred of the whole goose family. They were to me a low, waddling tribe with the evil spirit of envy in them. The worst thing about Mother Tipton was her geese, I used to think. She lived in a shanty by herself—a lonely man-hater—and the bit of land that climbed to the ridges on either side of it was known as Mother Tipton’s Hollow. Every day skirmishers, sentinels, and reserves of geese covered the green slopes of the Hollow, and a white squadron of them was always sailing the black waters of the pond in its center. I came betimes, of a summer day, and peered over the circling ridge in a tremble of fear, whereupon a stir of white wings and a yell of defiance greeted me. Mother Tipton herself was a kindly creature who rescued
me whenever I was captured by that noisy rabble of boy-haters. She was an Englishwoman, the daughter of a rich man, I believe, in the city of Bristol, and turned out of her home for some reason—we never knew why. I know she had in her shanty wonderful trinkets of gold and silver, the relics of a better day, and more than once I had the inestimable pleasure of holding them in my
hands. The Hollow was half a mile from the shore of the broad Sound, and Mother Tipton took her geese and feathers to market in a rowboat. There was a big town across the bay, and she went always from the end of Shirley Point when the weather was fine, rowing as strong an oar as any man of all the many that made their living on those waters.
One morning—I was then a boy of eight years—I got permission to go with her in the boat. I remember she had a cargo of ten young geese, that were towed away, their legs tied together, in the bow of the boat.
It was a mile and a half across the bay, and the water lay like a mill-pond, with scarcely a ripple showing. A thin mist hovered about the farther shore as we pulled away, but we could see the dock clearly and the building that lay beyond it.
“Land o’ Goshen!” Mother Tipton cried, after rowing a few minutes, “it’s foggin’”; then she sat a long time, as it seemed to me, looking over the water at a misty wall that lay not far ahead of us. Of a sudden she began to pull vigorously on the right oar.
“It’s the ebb-tide,” said she, “and we must get back as quick as we can or we’ll be in trouble.”
Evidently she saw it coming, for she began to pull with redoubled energy. I could just see the dim outline of rocks on Shirley Point as we turned about.
“The tide has taken us half over,” she muttered. “It runs like a mill-race.”
Now I could see mist rising on the water under the side, as if it had turned hot suddenly. The fog thickened fast, and presently the boat had seemed to lengthen, and we to go far apart, so that I could see but dimly the face of Mother Tipton. Then I could hear her groan and breathe heavily as she put all her strength to the oars. She was lifting the bow from the water every stroke now, but suddenly I heard the snap of an oar, and the boat turned in the tide; then a splash of water hit my face.
Mother Tipton rose in the boat and shouted a long halloo. We listened for some answer, but, hearing none, she called “Help!” a dozen times, at the top of her voice. Between her cries we could hear nothing but the tide rippling under the boat.
I felt a fine thrill then, having little sense at best, and none of our danger. I remember growing very manly and chivalrous when I saw Mother Tipton crying in her seat, and did my best to comfort her.
She was up to shouting for help again presently, but not a sound came back to us. We drifted of course, with the tide, and could see nothing. She kept calling all the time, and when my tongue was dry for the need of water, and the thought of cake and cookies kept crowding on me, I lost a bit of my bravery. It was time to be getting home—there was no longer any doubt of that.
“Mother Tipton,” I said, “where do you suppose we are?”
“The Lord only knows, child,” was her answer. “I’m afraid we’re out in the deep water half over to Long Island. But the tide has turned, and it may take us back before night comes. We’ll just sit still and keep calling.”
I was lying on my back in the stern, resting my head on the seat behind me, and was feeling very miserable indeed, when I heard a great disturbance among the geese.
“Willie, come here,” said Mother Tipton. Two of the geese were lying in her lap, and she was unwinding a long fish-line.
“Tie it tightly,” said she, “just above the big joint of the leg. Wait—let’s cut it first into even lengths. That’s right—now cut it.”
She measured for me, and I cut the line, as she held it into ten pieces, with probably as many feet in each. Then we tied them securely to the geese, above the big joint of the legs, and fastened the loose ends together, winding them with a bit of string. We tied another fish-line to this ten-stranded cable, cut the geese apart, and let them all go at once. They flew for a little distance, and, being not all of a mind, came down in a rather bad tangle. I had hold of the line, and if I had not paid it out quickly we would surely have lost them. They ducked their heads in the water, and shook their wings, and screamed as if delighted with their liberty. Meanwhile they had begun to pull like a team of horses, and I could feel the stretch of the line. It had parted in a minute—and a thick, strong line it was at that—and I had gone overboard and was clutching for the loose end. There was a thunder of wings when they saw me coming upon them, and when I got my hand on the cord they began to pull me through the water at a great rate. I was a good swimmer, but was glad to lie over on my back and rest a little after the violence of my exertion. Then, suddenly, I heard the voice of Mother Tipton calling me, and it seemed far away. I looked in the direction it came from, and then I got a scare I hope never to have again. I could see nothing of the boat. The geese were swimming with the tide, and over all, the fog lay on the sea as thick as darkness. I was breathing hard, and lay for a long time floating on my back, my fingers clutching the tight strings.
When I turned over and got a little of the water out of my eyes, I could hear faintly in the distance the voice of Mother Tipton calling the geese just as I had heard her many a time over there in the Hollow. I could see them turn and listen, and then the whole flock veered about, cackling together as if they knew the meaning of it. The ten of them were now swimming comfortably. Every moment I could hear more distinctly the voice of Mother Tipton, and after a little I could hear the water on the boat. Suddenly its end broke through the wall of fog, and I saw my companion looming above me in the thick air, her head showing first. She answered with a cheery “Thank Heaven!” as I called to her, and the whole flock rose out of the water and tried to fly.
The geese came up to the boat-side, and she touched their beaks fondly with her hand as she came to help me in. The water had chilled me through, and I was glad enough to set my feet on the boat-bottom, and to take off my coat and wrap my shoulders in the warm shawl that Mother Tipton offered. You may be sure I kept a good hold of the strings, and before I sat down we made them fast to some ten feet of the small anchor-rope and tied it at the bow. Then those that had got their feet over the traces were carefully attended to. They lay quietly under the gunwale as Mother Tipton fussed with them, sometimes lifting one above another. She shooed them off in a moment, and they made away, turning their heads knowingly as she began to paddle.
“I believe those creatures will have sense enough to go ashore. They know more than we do about a good many things,” said she. “That old gray gander of mine goes a mile away sometimes, but he’ll get home, if it is foggy, every night of his life.”