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FREIGHTED SCOW was moving slowly against the sluggish current of the Erie Canal.
It was drawn by a pair of gaunt horses, too feeble even to keep the rotten tow-line from sagging into the water. At their heels, along the muddy tow-path, followed a ragged little driver with a whip in one hand and a piece of bread-and-molasses in the other. At one moment he took a bite of the bread, and at the next he gave the team a cut with the whip. Every time he whipped, up went the rope dripping and swinging, and every time he bit, down it dropped again with a splash, or with a series of splashes, as the poor brutes staggered unsteadily forward.
Once he neglected to ply the lash whilst he regaled himself with two or three bites. Then a gruff voice bawled out from the stern of the boat, "Lick along there!" It was the voice of a rough, swarthy, bare-headed man who sat smoking a short pipe on the after-part of the cabin, the voice, in short, of Captain Jack Berrick, master of the scow. Crack went the whip again, and the little driver shouted back, from a mouth well filled with bread-and-molasses, "Ye
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1870, by FIELDS, OSGOOD, & Co., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
can't lick life into a couple of old crowbaits. What they want is less whip and more oats."
Yet, for want of oats, he gave them the lash again in liberal measure. At the same time he swore at them, and at the old scow and the canal, in a fearfully voluble and energetic manner. Indeed, the little wretch seemed scarcely able to speak without swearing, as if oaths were as necessary a part of the speech that came out of his mouth as molasses was of the bread that went into it. If you could have seen and heard him, you would have pronounced him the most profane little driver on the canal ; but that would have been saying a great deal, for this was twenty-five years ago, when you might have travelled from Albany to Buffalo without finding
a driver who did not swear. I remember once hearing of one who did not, but I never saw him. He was considered a phenomenon. The canal has since been enlarged; and, with other improvements, I believe the morals of the boatmen have been reformed. But five-and-twenty years ago! Profane enough our little driver certainly was, as well as vicious in other ways; and with the companions he had, and with such a man as Old Jack Berrick for a father, familiar from his childhood with the life of the tow-path and the canal stables, - how was it possible for him to be different? As he is to be the hero of this story, I make haste to put in this plea for him, to prevent fastidious readers from dropping his acquaintance at the outset. Perhaps we shall find some good in him by and by.
"A boy after his dad's own heart," said Pete, with a sarcastic grin. "There ain't his beat on the ditch," said Berrick, boastfully.
"Owing to his bringing up," said Pete, squinting over the bow with a professional air, and pushing the tiller about with his back braced hard against it. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he won't depart from it," he added, as he carried the scow safely round a bend in the canal. "That's Scriptur', Cap'n Jack."
"You don't say, Pete!" replied Cap'n Jack, taking the pipe from his mouth and regarding the steersman with mild astonishment. "What do
you know about that?”
"By George, I was a Sunday-school chap once!" said Pete, giving the tiller a sharp turn in the other direction to keep the scow in the channel as the canal straightened.
"Ho, ho!" laughed Cap'n Jack. A Sunday-school chap, Pete !"
"Which proves that Scriptur' ain't true," said Pete. "I was trained up in the way I should go, and I departed from it! Seriously, though, Cap'n, it's a shame to bring up a boy the way you 're bringin' him up."
"That idee comes from your 'arly Sunday-school prejudices," replied Berrick, smoking tranquilly. "What else can I do with the boy?"
"Put him to some trade; do anything with him sooner 'n keep him on the canal. He's got good stuff in him, that boy has, and he might make a decent sort of man. This lawless kind of life will do for old reprobates like me and you, Cap'n Jack; but, as I said "
"Wait a minute!" said Berrick.
"This is too good!" He stooped and put his bristling head down the companion-way. "Molly!" he called, come up quick! And pass up the jug, Molly!"
Presently a pair of long, thin hands appeared from below, bearing up a shining black jug, and followed by the face and bust of a slovenly woman. At the same time up rose with a yawn a large, rough-looking black dog that had been lying asleep by the rudder-post, and jumped upon the cabin deck.
"What's the fun?" asked the woman, standing on the stairs.
Berrick first tipped up the jug under his nose, then passed it to the steersman. "Here, wet your whistle, Pete, then blow away. preachin' a sermon, Molly!"
Pete, standing beside the tiller, bore the jug to his mouth. As it was still necessary for him to keep an eye out for the difficulties of navigation, he had while he drank the comical look of a man taking aim across a very short and very portentous blunderbuss levelled at Jack on the tow-path.
"Here, give me a taste o' that!" cried Jack; and in order to get a chance to fall back and have a drink, he gave his horses two or three parting cuts. The tow-rope happened to be sagging pretty deep in the water at the time, and the sudden force with which they straightened it proved too much for its rotting fibres. It snapped in the middle, and the two fragments, flying asunder with a little flash of spray, dropped helpless and relaxed into the canal.