Danger in the Water
Grant would have been dead for sure, if the old miner hadn’t heard Perly’s desperate cries for help. He took a step forward and winced. Looking down he saw a small trail of blood and realized it was his.
Whether it happened while he ran along the river’s shore yelling for Grant to hang on, or when he plunged into the river to help pull Grant’s limp body from the water, he didn’t care. Mr. Stone, the miner that many people talked about in hushed tones, had pulled his brother face down, onto the shore, lifted his limp arms over his head and began to gently push into the middle of Grant’s back.
Each time Mr. Stone muttered to himself. “C’mon, boy…don’t give up..take a breath.” If he hadn’t been so desperate for help Perly would have run for safety, but something in the old miner’s eyes told a story much different than what he had always heard.
A small audible cough escaped Grant’s lips, followed by a gush of water. Pa arrived just as Grant’s eyes fluttered open. Pa charged down the soft embankment with several others close behind him then bent his six-foot frame down and scooped up Grant who was still dazed but very much alive. Tears of relief glistened in the bright sunlight as they made their way down Pa’s dark chiseled face.
“I feared the Good Lord, had done taken you home,” Pa pressed his cheek against the top of Grant’s wet hair.
Mama pushed her way through the growing crowd and hugged both Pa and Grant. “Land sakes, from the look of that goose egg on your forehead it’s a wonder you made it through the rapids in one piece.”
Grant reached up and gently touched the growing bump on his forehead.
“I sent Cordillia to fetch Doc Harrision and meet us at the house,” Mama said as she looked over at Perly. “We best have the Doc look at that foot of yours as well.” She put her hand on his wet shoulder.
Perly often teased his younger sister, but he had to admit, it was nice to know she was reliable to get the message to Doc Harrison and no doubt she would do it fast as her young legs could carry her.
“Let’s get you boys home and outa those wet clothes. If’n that river didn’t kill you, bein’ chilled to the bones will,’ Mama quickly ran to catch up with Pa’s long strides.
The small group started back to town. Perly turned to thank the old miner, however amid all the chaos the bearded man must have quickly and quietly slipped away. Perly had heard a lot of rumors about the hermit who lived in Coloma. Some folks say he had killed an Irishman with his bare hands over a claim dispute, others said he was mad on account of being bit by a rabid coyote. One thing was certain, Charles Stone had saved his brother’s life and for that Perly would always be grateful.
Perly and his classmate, Sam Wimmer, walked back to town in silence. This was an afternoon neither of them would ever forget.
“I can’t believe how fast that happened,” said Sam, shaking his mop of red hair, still damp from swimming. One minute we was laughin’ over you flying off that rope swing and landin’ in the water like some crazy bird and the next…”
“Don’t I know it,” said Perly, careful to not step too hard down on his wounded foot. “I told him he didn’t know how to swim. I shoulda never let him in the water.”
“You ain’t to blame Perly. He told you he could swim all the way to Mormon Island if he had the notion,” reassured Sam.
“Thanks, Sam. You are a good friend,” said Perly.
Sam’s younger sister, Eliza, caught up with the boys as they walked into town. She had also been down at the river, busy making daisy chains when Grant was pulled unto the current after wandering too far from the calm spot where they often swam. She had been the one to run into town for help while Perly and Sam followed Grant.
“Is Grant going to be okay?” she asked.
“Sure looks that way,” replied Sam.
“I do declare, I ain’t never seen any boy run that fast before,” said Eliza.
“Well, you ain’t done too bad yourself.” Perly smiled at the young girl. One of her braids had worked it’ way out of the ribbon that was tied at the bottom. A soft cascade of brown hair tumbled onto her blue gingham dress.
As they approached the house where Perly’s family lived they saw Cordillia and Clay looking at some newborn kittens, curled up on a small mound of straw next to the silo.
Pa was just ahead of them and already climbed the steps onto the porch, Grant still in his arms. Doc Harrison right behind them.
“Perly, look,” four year old Clay pointed toward the kittens. “Dillia says I can name this one Whispers!”
“I said Whiskers!” corrected Cordillia. She shook her head.
Eliza and Sam turned back home. “See you tomorrow,” they said. “Don’t forget, it is the last day of school, so bring your marbles.”
The white washed house was a welcome sight. Perly climbed the wide wooden stairs of the home his grandparents Peter and Miss Nancy had build when they settled on the 80 acre farm.
The smell of fresh cinnamon rolls lingered in the air, but considering everything that had happened, the last thing on his mind were kittens and cinnamon rolls.
Perly sank into the top step. Exhausted and relieved. He could hear Miss Nancy asking what she could do and Doc Harrison asking Grant about any additional injuries.
In a few minutes Pa joined Perly on the porch step.
“Pa,” Perly spoke without looking over. “I am sorry… I told him… we were all laughing one minute and the next I was thinking he was gone for sure.”
“I know, Perly. Sometimes things happen,” said Pa. “I am jist glad you both are goin’ to be fine.”
Perly felt Pa’s strong arm on his shoulders. Behind them the screen door snapped shut. Doc Harrison held a warm cinnamon roll in one hand and his black leather doctor bag in the other.
“Is my brother goin’ to be alright?” Perly asked.
“I reckin he’ll be a bit sore tomorrow. He sure took a hard hit on the head, plus a few bruises and scrapes, but with plenty of rest for the next day or so, he’ll be as good as new.”
Mama stepped out with a basket of eggs and a few jars or her peach preserves.
“We’ll bring around two dressed out chickens come Tuesday Doc Harrison. We sure do thank you for comin’ right out.”
A lot of towns folks bartered for Doc’s house calls. He told people he was the best fed Doctor in the country.
“That’ll be right fine.” He took another bite of the cinnamon roll and smiled. “Mmmm …mmm. That is some of the tastiest food I’ve had in months. Miss Nancy sure does a fine job.”
“Can I see Grant now?” asked Perly.
“Sure can, but let me take a look at that foot of yours first,” Doc Harrison finished the last bite and wiped his mouth on a clean handkerchief pulled from his pocket. The middle age man knelt down next to Perly and gently lifted his blood crusted foot for closer inspection.
“Be sure to give this a good soaking and scrub it with lye soap and have your mama put some of Miss Nancy’s clover salve on it. Just be careful and stay away from rapids.” He winked, then stood, picked up his bag and basket of fresh eggs and strode out of the yard.
“Good-bye,” called Clay. “Come again, real soon.”
“Well,” said Pa standing up. “I best see what I need for fixin’ the chicken coop tomorrow, along with a few other things Miss Nancy needs fixin’.”
Just then Mama walked outside. She had a look of relief on her face, and put her hand on Perly’s shoulder. “Your brother wants to ask you somethin’.”
“What?” asked Perly.
“He want’s to know how close he came to swimming all the way to Mormon Island!”
Pa laughed as he turned to head toward the barn. “Yes sir, I think that boy is gonna be jist fine.”
That night after supper was done and all the chores tended to Perly laid down on his bed. His foot felt much better but he kept playing the scenes of the day over and over in his head. Seeing the Wimmer kids at the river, the rope swing, Grant screaming. He recalled the way the white foam of turbulent water menacingly pulled his brother into the rapids. The feeling of helplessness as Grant disappeared in the swirling frigid water. Seeing Charles Stone pull Grant toward the shore.
He felt his body relax. His thoughts felt more like feathers, slowly drifting on a small current of air. Charles Stone…so many rumors had been spoken about him, but now Perly wondered which ones, if any, were true. If Charles Stone was really hiding something or perhaps avoiding the law, would he have been willing to risk his own life to save Grant? Perly was determined to find out the truth.
A half moon shone it’s bluish beam through his small attic window where he and Grant shared a room. “That almost looks like water…” He closed his eyes and started to breath deep and slow when he heard something that reminded him of someone in distress. Perly sat up, fully awake, as the sound of rustling leaves grew louder.
More cries pierced the night, punctuated by the exploding sound of a gunshot.
~to be continued next week…~