Ambry Silverstrings and Walkin’ Pete
by Dana Beehr
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3 4, 5, 6
The man told his tale as the canoe drifted along, with him keeping pace alongside on the bank. The man said his name was Walkin’ Pete, or at least it was now, and he’d been walking up and down the banks of the Great Serpent River for nigh on a year. He’d been a voyageur before then, poling a keelboat down the river in spring and walking it upriver in fall.
“Down at the Mouth I was,” he said, “at the end of a run, and weren’t havin’ much luck sellin’ my furs, when I decided I’d do some fishin’ in the Blue Bayou. Sure you’ve heard the stories.”
For there were legends about the Blue Bayou, you see. ’Twas the Blue Bayou where the two famous ironclad ships, the Marival and the Miawak, fought each other during the war of the Empire agin the Grasslands. While that would be enough to put it on the map, ’twere also said that back then, a great many cargo boats were sunk there, on account of the town of Rivermouth being blockaded by one side or t’other. S’posed, so I’ve heard tell, to be a fortune in gold doubloons at the bottom there, and two in silver.
With legends like that, you’d expect the Blue Bayou would’ve been one of the most populated places in the river, with all sorts of voyageurs, keelboaters, riverfolk, and flatboaters trying to get them some of that bright and shiny gold. And it were, exceptin’ there were other legends, too.
These other legends said all the ghosts of the sailors who died there, up to and including the very ships Marival and Miawak themselves, were still keeping guard over their fortunes, and that anyone as tried to disturb their last resting place would find out all too soon those sailors weren’t exactly at rest. And, so ’twas said, should anyone manage to take some of that fortune, bad luck would follow them all the rest of their days.
While River-folk, being sensible, hard-headed people, just naturally believed all this stuff and let the fortune said to be there alone by and large — there was no sense borrowing trouble, after all — ’twere a few down the years who’d tried it, just the same. And Pete, well, he weren’t afraid. So he’d gone over to the Bayou, hoping he might at least scrape some few coins off’n the bottom to compensate him for his pains.
“’Twere a right uncanny place, to be sure,” he said as he hustled along beside the boat. Swamp fire and marsh gas and mist were all over the place, and he could hear the calls of owls, hooting from tree to tree. He was feeling just a mite disconcerted and struggling to tell exactly where he were, when he came upon it.
’Twas a battered, run-down shack on stilts, in the center of the swamp, and all the more confusing as the Blue Bayou were s’posed to be all deserted. ’Twere something he didn’t like about that shack, and he were thinking of just calling it a night and skulking away, when a voice called out: “Who is it comes into my domain?”
“No man or woman as knowns me ’ud say I’m a scaredy cat,” Pete said, “but somethin’ about that voice like to froze my blood.” He were on the edge of turning tail and runnin’, when suddenly it seemed a great current rose up from the still water and snatched at him, too strong for him to fight. He found himself being pulled toward the shack, willy-nilly, toward the Witch of the Blue Bayou herself.
“What’d she look like?” Ambry asked with great curiosity.
“Couldn’t rightly make out,” Walkin’ Pete confessed hang-doggedly. “Couldn’t make out nothin’ ’cept her voice.”
That voice boomed like thunder, beating against his ears like the roll of a thousand drums: “What brings this stranger to my lands, trespasser?”
Well, Walkin’ Pete being so petrified, of course he lied — ”Though I ain’t proud of it,” he told Ambry. He stuttered and stammered and finally insisted he’d only been out for a nighttime walk — “Takin’ the air, like. I need to for my constitution.”
On hearing that, the Witch had laughed. “A walk, you say? Well, then, walk forever you shall! And may this be your punishment for intruding on my territory!”
And so ’twas, Walkin’ Pete said, he’d been cursed to walk forever, up and down, along the banks of the Great Serpent.
“Until the day I die, most like,” he gloomed, “and even then, who’s to say that these old bones won’t go a-haulin’ themselves up and down the river forever? I’ve tried everything to stop walkin’ and just ain’t no good. Can’t even lie down to sleep. I have to lean up against a tree, and even then, my feet keep a-twitchin’ all through the night.”
Well, when Ambry heerd this she was so sorrowful for Pete, she just about bust out crying. “Look here,” she said, “there’s got to be some way I kin help you. If I played for you, think that’d do any good?”
“You can give it a try, I s’pose, but I don’t believe it’ll help much,” Walkin’ Pete groaned as he hustled along.
“Well, let’s try it anyway,” Ambry said. And she pulled out her fiddle, and began to play.
She started out sprightly at first, matching his pace, so’s he started dancing with her as he hurried along, and then, once he were keeping pace with her music, she slowed it down a bit at a time. And as she did, Pete started walking slower and slower, to go along with her music, till at last she was playing so slowly that he were almost standing in one place.
“By Chira, I swear you’ve done it! You’ve broke the curse!” Pete were so joyed he whooped and hollered and tossed his hat in the air, if he’d had a hat, that was.
Well, Ambry was about as proud as a girl could be, but when she put her fiddle down, Walkin’ Pete stood there a spell, then his feet started tapping and his legs started twitching, and he was tearing off agin.
“Well, thanks for tryin’, Miss Ambry,” he sighed, “but I guess that old Witch’s curse is just too strong for even your fiddlin’ to break.”
Well, Ambry scowled something fierce at this, for she didn’t like to be told that nothing was stronger than her music. “Well, maybe that’s so. But maybe I just ought to go see this ol’ Witch and see what I can do about it. I’ll get that curse taken off you, Walkin’ Pete,” she vowed, “just see if I don’t!”
And so she set off for the Mouth, leaving Walkin’ Pete hustling along the river bank like his hair were afire.
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Copyright © 2017 by Dana Beehr