Chapter IV. The Will of the River.

Had Auntie Sue remained a few minutes longer on the porch, that evening, she might have seen an object drifting down the river, in the gentle current of The Bend.

Swinging easily around the curve above the clubhouse, it would not have been visible at first, because of the deep shadows of the reflected trees and mountains. But, presently, as it drifted on into the broader waters of The Bend, it emerged from the shadows into the open moonlit space, and then, to any one watching from the porch, the dark object, drawing nearer and nearer in the bright moonlight, would have soon shaped itself into a boat--an empty boat, the watcher would have said, that had broken from its moorings somewhere up the river;--and the watcher would have heard, through the still, night air, the dull, heavy roar of the mad waters at Elbow Rock.

Drifting thus, helpless in the grip of the main current, the little craft apparently was doomed to certain destruction. Gently, it would float on the easy surface of the quiet, moonlit Bend. In front of the house, it would move faster and faster. Where the river narrows, it would be caught as if by mighty hands hidden beneath the rushing flood, and dragged onward still faster and faster. About it, the racing waters would leap and boil in their furious, headlong career, shaking and tossing the helpless victim of their might with a vicious strength from which there would be no escape, until, in the climax of the river's madness, the object of its angry sport would be dashed against the cliff, and torn, and crushed, and hammered by the terrific weight of the rushing flood against that rocky anvil, into a battered and shapeless wreck.

The drifting boat drew nearer and nearer. It reached the point where the curve of the opposite bank draws in to form the narrow raceway of the rapids. It began to feel the stronger pull of those hidden hands that had carried it so easily down The Bend. And then--and then--the unguided, helpless craft responded to the gentle pressure of some swirl or crosscurrent in the main flow of the stream, and swung a little to one side. A few feet farther, and the new impulse became stronger. Yielding easily to the current that drew it so gently across the invisible dividing-line between safety and destruction, the boat swung in toward the shore. A minute more, and it had drifted into that encircling curve of the bank where the current of the eddy carried it around and around.

The boat seemed undecided. Would it hold to the harbor of safety into which it had been drawn by the friendly current? Would it swing out, again, into the main stream, and so to its own destruction?

Three times the bow, pointing out from the eddy, crossed the danger-line, and, for a moment, hung on the very edge. Three times, the invisible hands which held it drew it gently back to safety. And so, finally, the little craft, so helpless, so alone, amid the many currents of the great river, came to rest against the narrow shelf of land at the foot of the bank below Auntie Sue's garden.

The light in the window of Auntie Sue's room went out. The soft moonlight flooded mountain and valley and stream. The mad waters at Elbow Rock roared in their wild fury. Always, always,--irresistibly, inevitably, unceasingly,--the river poured its strength toward the sea.