Ambry Silverstrings and Walkin’ Pete
by Dana Beehr
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3 4, 5, 6
This happened on one of Ambry Silverstrings’ runs down from the Mother Bear Mountain in the Sawteeth to the Mouth, where the Great Serpent River kisses the ocean. She were riding a canoe; no cargo to speak of, just drifting along to see the sights, as it were.
Now that I think on it, might’ve been she missed her boat a day before and were trying to catch up with it. Not in any sort of a hurry; she knew she’d get to the next boat, when she got there, and if she didn’t, well, she didn’t. All them as rides the river knows, you can’t hurry river time.
’Twas a lazy sort of day. Ambry was drifting along with a jug of that old snake likker by her side — so called because they say it was made from the venom of a snake; you could use it to strip the paint off’n a flatboat and also to tan mule hide with, if you’d a mind to — and a plug of baccy for her corncob pipe. And she was just happy as a pig in mud, as the old saying goes; and if you’d ever seen a pig in mud, you’d know that was mighty happy.
At this stretch of the river — between Jonsfordtown and the Five Narrows — the Great Serpent herself were lazy, meandering along; the channel turned and twisted, hither and thither, as if ’twere out for a holiday stroll. Bees were humming in the air, and birds were drifting overhead as Ambry’s canoe floated on the current, and Ambry herself lay with her feet up, just a-watchin’ the world flow by.
“Mighty lazy day!” she said to herself, tilting her hat over her head to shade her face from the sun. “Even the clouds’re lazy! Sure ain’t doin’ their job o’ keepin’ the sun from shinin’ down!” For ’twas a warm day, and the river weren’t making much of a breeze.
Well, Ambry was drifting along, thinking to herself, might be a good time for a nap, when she spied something on the riverbank a-crashing through the brush. Ambry watched it for a spell — weren’t much of anything else to watch on a day like today — when the brush thinned out and she saw what it was.
’Twere a fellow with long tangly black hair and beard, shoeless, though ’tweren’t nothing strange in that; most river folk were shoeless, and Ambry herself hadn’t never owned a pair of shoes in her life. His trousers were all a-ragged, and his shirt too, and his clothes were covered with thorns and burrs and bristles and patches such that he looked a downright porcupine.
This feller were hustling along at a right good clip; tearing through the underbrush as if he were throwing in the last charge at the Battle of the Yellow Oxbow. He was going along near fast enough to keep up with the canoe itself, meaning he was walkin’ as fast as the course of the vast Great Serpent River — no mean feat even on a lazy day.
“Well, I declare!” Ambry said to herself, sitting up and studying the man. “Now where’s he goin’ in such a hurry?”
Still, the river were full of all sorts of strange folk, and it didn’t do to question ’em; a moment later, he plunged behind a stand of maypop trees and out of sight, and Ambry thought about him no more.
Well, as I said, ’twere a rather lazy sort of day; but Old Missus Sun seemed to be about the only one as weren’t taking the day off; she was shinin’ down just as hard as she ever did. With the warmth and the haze and the gentle rocking of the river, might have been — and I won’t say otherwise — that Ambry drifted right off to sleep for a bit. And might have been that her jar of snake likker helped a bit too; I’m not one to say it didn’t.
* * *
Whatever the reason, ’twere a few hours before Ambry woke up again. She yawned and stretched and checked her fiddle first and coin second. Of course, her bow and fiddle were there, but her coin purse was as flat as a flatfish.
This were no unusual circumstance to Ambry, of course, and she fell to checking her jug of snake likker. She was just finding she had a whole half a jug left, and was about to do something about that when she heard that crashing from the river bank.
She looked up in bewilderment, when what did she see but the same man as before come hurrying along, wild-eyed and wild-haired and going just as if he were a three-day drunk desperate to get out’n a dry town.
“Well, I’ll be!” Ambry said. “There’s that same man again! And how on earth did he ever catch up with me?”
He were more or less keeping pace with the boat now, and so Ambry sat right up on the boat, took a gulp from her jug of snake likker, and called out to him, “Well, hey, there, stranger! Mighty fine day it is!”
The stranger just kept on a-tearing through the underbrush, but he looked around at her sorta sharpish like and called out, “And a fine day to you.” Only to be expected; River folk are raised polite, you know.
Ambry had another drink from her jug and called out again, “It is a nice day at that, but where are you a-goin’ in such a hurry? And might I give you a lift in my canoe here?”
The stranger called back, “Just goin’ along the river, nowheres in particular. And you cain’t help me. Givin’ me a ride on the boat won’t do me no good.”
“It won’t?” Ambry puzzled that one over and couldn’t make it out. “Seems to me, at least you’d be on the boat instead of runnin’ along on your own two legs.”
“No. It ain’t no use.” And he looked sadder than a dog caught in the henhouse. “I got a curse put on me, by the Witch of Blue Bayou.”
“A curse!?” Now Ambry sat straight up, pushing her hat back on her head. “Well now that sounds like an int’restin’ story! Whyn’t you tell me all about it?”
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Dana Beehr